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Report from Government Office Shows Public Services Need to Improve Service

The disadvantaged in our society are being left behind in service provision in the public sector, according to a report issued by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM).

The report, entitled “Improving Services, Improving Lives”, is just one part of a number of studies aimed at making the services provided by the public services better accessible and accountable to the needs of the most vulnerable part of the population. This report, drawn from the disadvantaged adults project and other government programmes and statistics, suggests that people within the groups of the most disadvantaged, are much less aware of the new and innovative ways services are being delivered.

The Social Exclusion Unit of the ODPM has published a report that identifies three groups as having “significantly” poorer access to public services compared with the general population; people with low levels of literacy; disabled people and those with long-term health problems; and people from certain ethnic minorities. This has led, as the report puts it, to a reduced “impact for these groups of the Governments investment in modernising public services.”

The Demographic Divide

The figures speak for themselves. Less than half of those in the lower socio ““ economic groups even know that NHS Direct exists, as opposed to some 61% of the population as a whole. They are less likely to use non-essential, or discretionary, public services, and will generally report lower satisfaction levels with the service they encounter. As the report states: “Satisfaction data for people with low levels of literacy is virtually non-existent” ““ a clear indication that the Government’s drive for adult literacy, in tandem with initiatives such as the BBC’s ReadandWrite (RaW) Campaign, cannot come to fruition too swiftly.

The report goes on to highlight the trouble found in communication of intent and delivery. It notes some 5% of people have difficulties following straightforward texts accurately and independently, one in 15 with a sensory impairment require help reading and one in seven from ethnic minorities need information to be translated into a second language. These figures would seem to put a dent in councils” confidence in their communications; nearly 80% of councils say communications is a priority. The fear is that the information may not be in the appropriate format, unavailable, fragmented, not translated, not placed in the best locations or insufficient to help disadvantaged people.

The Step Forward

The report found that there are six general areas that need to be addressed to improve this situation, and stated that “public services often dont recognise the diversity of their target audiences in the development and delivery of information and communication.” The six key areas are; information and communication; interactions with frontline staff; individuals” personal effectiveness in using services; services working together; the role to be played by the voluntary and community sector; and tackling targets, funding and other incentives that apply to service providers.

It was not entirely negative news; the provision is there, the report argues, but people are not aware of the benefits available to them. The report suggests that service providers need to employ more effective marketing strategies to improve take-up. One successful example given is learndirect, the UK largest publicly-funded online learning provider, where Bangladeshi and Pakistani people with limited English responded to campaigns aimed at them on Asian TV and radio stations backed up by local language advice lines and outreach programmes.

There was a general feeling that people preferred face ““ to ““ face meetings rather than technological solutions; some electronic services, such as the job point kiosks in job centres were used very little because the report found that people “did not know how to use them and had never been shown how they worked.” Four more papers will be issued by the ODPM by the summer of 2006, culminating in an overarching view of the issues of social inclusion and set out how the government is expected to address them.

Jethro Marsh

How can the Government more effectively promote inclusion? Tell us in the FE Blog

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