Peter Beresford, co-author of Social Policy First Hand, discusses developing inclusive action and conversation, globally, about participatory public policy.
Two of the great linked ideological and global problems of our age are the threat to the sustainability of our planet and the rising international tensions and conflicts linked with populist expansionist politics.
We have seen this in the UK with the divisive vote to leave the EU, and in the US with the election of President Trump and its associated deregulation, protectionism, xenophobia and international sabre-rattling. At the heart of both lie misinformation; the disempowerment and impoverishment of populations and the capacity of elites to manipulate them. Traditional paternalistic appeals to both self-interest and collectivism seem to cut little ice in these circumstances. Instead we have seen increasingly unconstrained neoliberalism let loose, with all media, including the new social media and networking once hoped for as a liberating force, put to its service.
The only thing that looks likely to break this perilous logjam is to move beyond the old paternalistic forms of opposition, take more seriously and treat more coherently the new bottom up approaches to self organizing and policymaking which have been emerging especially since the 1970s. That is both the message of this book and the practical role it offers as a route map to new grassroots approaches to involvement, organizing, resistance and renewal.
Social Policy First Hand explores how a transformed participatory approach to social policy can engage some of the most oppressed and marginalized people and groups in the world and how they are becoming the vanguard for progressive political ideological and social change. Supported by mainstream academics prepared to work in more equal ways with grassroots activists and their self-organisations, the book shows how such user led approaches to public policy are both possible and developing globally in the Global South, no less than the Global North.
We learn about new accessible and inclusive ways of organizing; the strengths and weaknesses of using social media and networks; the costs and gains of being a whistleblower, of fighting for the rights of a family member wrongly killed in the ‘caring’ system. We find out more about the links between participatory and sustainable social policy and how each is essential for the other. We learn from service users and practitioners how practice can become more user led. We are reminded that experiential knowledge, that is to say knowledge grounded in first hand experience, so long devalued in public policy while so-called ‘expert’ knowledge has been privileged, can and must have a key part to play in co-producing the policies and support that people need.
Such a participatory approach to public policy and provision challenges the marginalization of diversity, with contributions here including some of the most excluded groups; people with learning difficulties, indigenous peoples, those who have been homeless, forcibly restrained or institutionalized. It offers the possibility of getting beyond the rhetoric to see from experience how to make co-production, user involvement and listening to devalued voices real rather than just rhetorical.
Social Policy First Hand challenges the historic paternalistic role of social policy as a reformist device, while offering practical lessons about involvement at every level, from grassroots organizing against oppressive policy change, to playing an active part in shaping the protocols of supra national organisations. Here established social policy academics and thinkers join forces with service user thinkers and activists to explore different understandings, tactics and goals. This is a book for activists, educators and learners who want to make change by building on the diverse knowledge we already have about what can make working for such change a feasible and inclusive process. It aims to encourage a new generation of social policy that can both rescue us from the seemingly unstoppable rise of neoliberalism and ideological extremism, while offering a convincing practical, democratic and sustainable alternative.
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