|Victoria with former Mayor of Hammersmith and Fulham Mercy Umeh|
Saturday, 10 June 2017
Co-production in Hammersmith and Fulham
By Victoria Brignell. Member of Hammersmith and Fulham’s Disabled People’s Commission
A quiet revolution is currently underway in Hammersmith and Fulham. Most of its residents will be unaware of it so far but behind the scenes much activity is taking place.
Steve Cowan, Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council, wants to make this West London borough the best place in the country to be disabled. This is a bold ambition in itself but the way the council intends to achieve it is pioneering.
In what is widely believed to be the first initiative of its kind, the council is not just consulting disabled people about what they want but planning to actively involve them in the decision-making processes. This is a concept known as co-production and it is based on the principle that those who use a service are best placed to help design it.
The 2014 Care Act encouraged local authorities to adopt co-production
…but I believe that Hammersmith and Fulham Council is taking it more seriously than most. As a first step, it has set up a Disabled People’s Commission (DPC) to draw up a list of recommendations on how co-production should work in practice.
Made up of ten local disabled people with a range of impairments, the DPC has been meeting since last September and taking evidence from local disabled person-led organisations and co‑production advisors. At the heart of its work is the social model of disability; the idea that people are disabled not by their impairment but by others' attitudes and also by the way society is organised.
The DPC has already carried out a major survey of residents
…and held a public event in the borough to find out disabled people's views and what issues they think need tackling. The message emerging is loud and clear – disabled people believe services could be better and want a greater say in how they are designed and delivered.
More than 60% of the disabled people surveyed believed that their quality of life had gone down and 43% had had difficulty using a service in the last 12 months. Moreover, 46% felt that they could not currently influence decisions that affected them. As one respondent said: "Nobody has ever asked me about who I am or what I need".
DPC member David Isaac tells me: "Change has to happen from top to bottom, from the policymakers and managers right down to the frontline staff. Even with the best intentions, people are making decisions for disabled people, not with them - and that causes more harm than good."
Disabled people are under-represented at all levels of government, from local authorities to Parliament and the Cabinet. While it is vital to increase the number of disabled people elected to public office, this will take many years to achieve. In the meantime, co-production offers a way to incorporate disabled people into the way public bodies carry out their work.
Will co-production ever become a reality in Hammersmith and Fulham?
Early signs are encouraging. In the DPC's survey, over 80% of disabled people said they wanted to participate in council decision-making and 94% of council staff were keen to involve disabled residents more in the delivery of services. DPC members are planning to hold an event in Co-production Week to explore the idea further with Hammersmith and Fulham Council staff.
The DPC is due to publish its final report early in 2018. It is determined to do what it can to make a difference and transform services. However, whether Hammersmith and Fulham Council manages to create a real and enduring partnership between those providing services - and those using them - only time will tell.