Wellbeing Fund can significantly reform public services - Fiona Duncan

Following Scotland’s Resource Spending Review in May 2022, amidst a rising cost of living crisis, conversations about money and power are even more heated than usual.

Folks who need most often have least, certainly there is always someone else with more and, regardless, everyone thinks money is being used poorly.

This can present decision-makers with the temptation to stick with the status quo and preserve existing budgets.

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This temptation must be resisted. From the smoking ban to free personal care, there is strong evidence that reallocation of resources towards preventative spending works.

Fiona Duncan is Chair of The Promise, the body responsible for ensuring the findings of the Independent Care Review are implemented, and CEO of Corra
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This insight underpinned the thinking of the Independent Care Review. It found Scotland spends almost a billion pounds on its “care system”, plus a further £875 million to meet the needs of care experienced adults failed by that same system. It is clear that the lifelong human cost of the “care system” is borne by those who lived through it - and unforgivable.

Of course, there is an economic cost to shifting funds towards intervention, but morally, we can’t afford not to.

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Yet, Scotland’s “care system” remains at risk of continuing to reinvent itself in its own image – investing in structures that respond to a crisis that would not be needed if preventative services and support were resourced and effective.

It is long past the time that stopped.

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And this is why the Scottish Government’s £500m Whole Family Wellbeing Fund matters so much. It offers the potential to significantly reform public services so they wrap around families, providing the help and support they need, where and when they need it.

Between now and 2026, it must be used to deliver the promised preventative public services, to avoid - as much as possible – the need for costly crisis interventions.

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But the fund can only go so far.

A proper discussion about how budgets can be truly invested in improving people’s lives is needed. It is far from clear how significant sums of public money in building new prisons can be considered investment, when supporting initiatives to tackle the socio-economic factors that allow them to be filled are not.

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This will require greater effort to overcome the difficulties in evaluating and measuring the longer-term outcomes that must be the goal of preventative spend.

Data collection must be reorientated so evidence gathered tells the story of real lives, not solely what matters to the system. It is simply not possible to know whether someone feels safer, more loved, cared for, by measuring what services input to their lives.

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For preventative spending to be sustained, information collected must be shaped by what matters to children and families, and decisions taken based on what is known, not only what can be quantified.

Above all, this requires a fundamental change. Our dogmatic approach to budgeting and evaluating policy impact are not merely unjust, they are inefficient.

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To achieve all of this, those with money and power need to take bold decisions. And Scotland needs them to be brave enough to stick with them.

If now is not the time to refocus towards preventive spend, when is?

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Morally we can’t afford not to.

Fiona Duncan is Chair of The Promise, the body responsible for ensuring the findings of the Independent Care Review are implemented, and CEO of Corra

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