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Reimagining public services: why frontline voices are critical to the policy making process

Four people in suits meet. Two of them shake hands in a greeting, while the others look at them. Overlaid is text that reads "22 ways to build resilience and aspiration".

Following the launch of Catch22’s Manifesto, Reimagining Public Services: 22 ways to build resilience and aspiration, Catch22’s Head of Policy and Campaigns, Stella Tsantekidou, discusses how the manifesto came to be, and what we hope to see as a result of this publication.

I started working at Catch22 a little over a year ago as Head of Policy and Campaigns. The brief I was given was to increase our policy influence. My background is in politics, and I used to work in Parliament where the word ‘influence’ was often interchangeable with public relations and raising the profile of people with their own political ambitions and agendas.

As I started meeting new colleagues from across Catch22 though, one thing became clear: there was no such vanity agenda held by any one person, let alone by the organisation as a whole. Across our various hubs and within teams, you find extremely dedicated social workers, teachers, youth workers, coaches, case workers. Our CEO started out as a youth and community worker, and still is one at heart.

The wisdom of frontline colleagues

What also became clear to me, intuitively and emotionally, from having meetings with frontline staff when preparing them for select committee evidence sessions and radio interviews, was that what they do works. The services they deliver work; their method and acquired wisdom over years of being embedded in the communities they serve is invaluable. If anyone knew how to prevent children from being involved with drugs and gangs, how to get young people on the career ladder, or how to give prison leavers the best chance of not re-offending, it is these people – not someone sitting behind a desk writing policy blogs (as much as I’d like to think that person plays their part too!).

It became clear to me, then, that no matter what topics are popular on social media or in the mainstream media, our next campaign needed to focus on the voices of our frontline staff and their expertise. And helpfully, the two often align very well.

The 2024 General Election

In the next year, the political parties in the UK will be looking at civil society for pointers on what to include in their manifestos for the 2024 General Election to tackle the vulnerabilities and challenges in the UK’s social welfare fabric. These are many, and the gaping holes left by the pandemic have only been exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis which is eating into public services and individual household’s capacities to withstand change.

Catch22’s policy manifesto is rooted in the belief that every individual can thrive if they have Good People around them, a Safe Place to live, and a Purpose in life – the 3Ps. Our hope is that we can stir the conversation in the policy areas we have expertise on and convince future Governments to commit to what we know will most help the most vulnerable in our society.

The policy asks focus on five main areas:

Deciding what policies to focus on was challenging. Catch22 is a big  organisation delivering a range of programmes and  services that support people across the social welfare cycle. Our frontline staff are scattered around the UK, and our three hubs (Justice and Education, Young People, Families and Communities, and Employability and Skills) touch on different policy areas. We are also, above all, a service provider, not a campaigning organisation or a lobby group. We don’t take part in public affairs because we want to be political players. We do it because we believe our frontline staff have invaluable experience that policy makers can use to improve the lives of our service users nationally.

A wide-ranging manifesto

As I mentioned above, our manifesto asks range widely. For some, we chose policies that other organisations are campaigning on already and that we believe will make a difference. For example, the children’s sector has long asked for Child Criminal Exploitation to be defined in law and for a dedicated Child Criminal Exploitation strategy. For others, we chose to focus more on more specific issues that were becoming frequent in our frontline services and where we believe Government intervention is necessary, for example vaping among young people and the proliferation of online fraud.

For other issues, we looked at our external corporate partners and the ways in which we believe they should be putting their money where their mouth is to help future Governments, for example by contributing to an “AI for Good” strategy to eliminate bias in the hiring process, and for improving access to digital skills so that everyone can benefit from the sustainable, profitable careers these can lead to.

Finally, we chose to give care experienced young people its own section in our manifesto, because the National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum, a part of Catch22 that is driven by leaving care professionals and care experienced young people, is a perfect example of bringing lived experience expertise into the policy making process, and this is something that charities across policy areas agree is largely missing from British politics.

What’s next?

We are organising a series of policy podcasts and events that we hope will attract campaigning partners who want to join their voices with ours.

We will also be going to party conferences this autumn where we hope to connect with policy makers and politicians alike. If you find yourself there and would like to meet with our policy team, let us know. We are always on the lookout for partners and friends.

We are also planning on using the expert voices of our frontline staff more, so if you are organising a conference or event and would like them to speak and share their policy insights get in contact with us.

– Stella Tsantekidou, Head of Policy and Campaigns