Research Bulletin February 2018: Sustainable Community Social Services

This month’s research bulletin is the final collection in preparation of The Federation’s 2018 Social Policy Forum. As such, the reports and analysis below contain research, information, and ideas about strengthening, supporting, and re-imagining the future of community social service delivery and the social care sector.

Reports from Canada and the UK examine: the impact of social spending on health outcomes; ideas, examples, and principles for imagining the future of social care; the main themes dominating discussion about social service delivery (demand, funding, quality, sustainability); and the economic potential of reframing the sector as an economy of its own (rather than an economic cost).

1. Effect of provincial spending on social services on health outcomes in Canada
2. Reimagining community services
3. Doing Care Differently
4. Social care as a local economic solution for the West Midlands

In Canada and the UK alike, community social services are coming to an important crossroads. In both countries, a lot of time and attention is being paid to issues of funding, demand, and sustainability (so these reports will be useful whether you are able to attend the Social Policy Forum or not).

As always, our goal is to share useful information in a useful way. If you have feedback about how we can make these research bulletins more useful and/or if you want to suggest issues or service areas for us to pay attention to, please contact our Research and Policy Analyst.


1. Effect of provincial spending on social services and health care on health outcomes (2018)

This short report published by CMAJ (an imprint of the Canadian Medical Association) shares and analyzes the results of a long-term study looking at the effect that provincial spending on social services and health care has on health outcomes in Canada.

Escalating health care spending in Western countries is a growing concern—especially given the lack of direct evidence connecting increased health care spending and improvements to public health. Instead, the researchers (led by the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary) compared ratios of provincial social/health spending from 1981 to 2011 to various provincial-level health outcomes.

Their analysis of 30 years of data suggested that increased social spending was positively associated with population health measures at the provincial level (notably, health spending did not have the same association).

The authors’ interpretation of this research is that health outcomes could benefit from a reallocation of government dollars from health to social spending, even if total government spending were left unchanged (which is consistent with other findings from Canada and the United States).


2. Reimagining community services (2018)

This brand-new report out of the UK argues for a “radical transformation” of community social services. This transformation is required because financial and workforce pressures are having a profound impact on the ability of service providers to meet the needs of a growing, aging, and demanding population.

The extensive report (1) reviews historical policies and community service reforms, (2) analyzes how services are currently organized and delivered, (3) outlines the ways in which services must change in order to meet future needs, and (4) proposes ten design principles that should inform the planning and provision of care from now into the future.

The authors also note that insufficient attention has been given to the implementation of policies and reforms of community services in the past. Moving forward, they urge governments and funders to focus their emphasis on “doing things differently rather than delivering more of the same.”


3. Doing Care Differently (2017)

The 2017 UK General Election resulted in an unprecedented amount of attention focused on social care and social care issues. This report by Independent Age (a 150-year-old charity organization supporting older adults, families, and caregivers) examines six themes dominating discussions on social care in the UK and abroad: meeting future demand, funding and responsibility, quality of care, integrated care, technology, and sector sustainability.

The report combines research, articles, and discussion panels with policymakers and politicians in an attempt to shift the debate about social care from simply “plugging the gaps” in the UK system and fixing the current “crisis” to setting an ambitious new vision and agenda for funding and delivering care in communities.

The report is equally relevant for us in Canada—we’re facing many of the same issues—and illuminates both the challenges and opportunities facing our social care sectors.


4. Social care as a local economic solution for the West Midlands (2017)

This report from the UK’s New Economics Foundation also positions the UK’s social care sector on the brink of a crisis: years of funding cuts, an aging population, a dysfunctional system, and a constant demand to “do more with less.” While there are a few structural differences, the picture painted is one we are fairly familiar with in BC.

The authors leverage research and analysis in an effort to reframe social care as not a “cost” that must be paid, but rather a major economic sector in its own right—a sector that can deliver prosperity to many communities if policies and funding strategies are adjusted.

The report authors argue for “a diversity of community-scale care providers” that would make the system as a whole more resilient and person-centered. This new system would (or could) be at the centre of reimagined policies that emerge from the actual everyday needs, lives, and economic assets of specific communities rather than carbon-copy large-scale strategies that hope to have the same effect on different regions, different communities, and different economies.