Janet’s story: why decentralisation is not enough

Die deutschen Friedens-Delegierten und Sachverständigen in Versailles.
1919: Die Mitglieder der für die Friedensverhandlungen in Paris bestimmten deutschen Delegation.
(v.l.n.r.) Prof. Dr. Schücking, Reichspostminister Giesberts, Reichsjustizminister Dr. Landsberg, Reichsminister des Auswärtigen Dr. Graf Brockdorff-Rantzau, Präsident der Preussischen Landesversammlung Leinert, Dr. Karl Melchior.

Those who believe in the decentralisation of public services do so because it is thought that better decisions will be made the closer service users are to decision-makers.  Not so.

Take social services as an example, where you might expect social workers to be at the interface between service users and the care system.

I have just come across an example of how the social services system has not worked for one resident in a care home (the name has been changed).  What happened to Janet had nothing to do with her needs; it was entirely, to do with how the social service management process works.

Janet’s care home is in a rural village.  Her parents live in a village, about 20 minutes away by car.  Janet has lived in the countryside all her life and her parents are as happy as can be with where she lives.  It is a home specially designed for people with severe learning and other disabilities.  Janet can neither talk nor understand what is said to her.  She is in a wheelchair full-time.

Janet’s parents cannot care for their daughter in their own home because she needs twenty-four hour care.  They visit her at least once a week, buy nice clothes for her, and keep an eye on her room in ways which carers rarely do. They assumed that this is how things would be for the foreseeable future.

Then one day, out of the blue, the social services bureaucracy informed Janet’s parents that they didn’t think that Janet was getting out enough into the community (a phrase commonly used of people in care) and needed to have more stimulation.  They said that she would get this if she was in a care home in an urban area. Urban-based bureaucrats seem to think like this, about those who live in country areas.

Janet’s parents are devastated.  They are thinking people who hadn’t realised that the local authority had the power to over-rule their own views on their daughter’s care.  Had they known this earlier they could have got a Court of Protection order to make them responsible as court-appointed deputies, for deciding where she should live.  But this is a process which takes time and money and it is not generally known about.  Moreover, it is not in the interest of social services to tell service users about deputyship, because it would forego their own power to decide such things.

Janet’s parents were offered a number of homes, all in urban areas; some more than two hours drive away. They are too far away for her parents to visit regularly (her mother does not drive in cities).

The underlying assumption by the social service bureaucracy in this case, and in others I have come across, is that parents’ views of where and how their adult children should be cared for can be, and often are, over-ruled.

All of this is nothing to do with the politics of the local authority.  The Mental Capacity Act 2005 enables anyone to become a court-appointed deputy and make decisions for someone who lacks mental capacity.  It is a well-meaning Act which is totally undermined, in the case of people with learning disabilities, by the bureaucracy.  It beggars belief that parents have the legal potential to be empowered on behalf of their siblings and themselves, and yet be unaware of this because it is not in the interest of the bureaucracy to tell them about it, and help them to exercise their power.

No matter how close bureaucrats are to those they serve, they are still bureaucrats. They are also all-powerful.

Help us lay the intellectual foundations for a new radical politics. Sign up to get email notifications about anything new in this blog.

Rate this post!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.


  1. Peter Arnold says

    This article demonstrates the harsh reality of living in a closed society. The fault here is not with the principle of the devolution of power. The idea that the closer decisions are made by the people who have to accept the consequences is a positive one. But it depends on the surrounding environment within an open society, where the decision-makers can be held accountable, firstly to those who have been disadvantaged by the decision, and secondly to the community within which the decision was made. The fault is with the centralising and bureaucratic system of local government which has grown up over the years, because central government fails to recognise and accept that genuine local government can be trusted to do the best it can with the resources it possesses. No system of government is perfect, but what we can expect is that it is willing to learn from its mistakes, as in this case, and to regard mistakes as an opportunity to learn and to do better in the future. It is the blame culture which is largely responsible for many of the current errors in social services, combined with the erroneous idea that bigger is better. Services should be constructed in such a way that the people who receive them are allowed and encouraged to contribute to their organisation and delivery. When we learn the truth of this concept, and accept the consequences, then we will see a reduction in the sorts of mistakes and upset described in this case. In my lengthy career in public life, I have always found it best to trust in the common sense and fairness of ordinary people. They usually know what is the right thing to do, because they experience the problems and difficulties at first hand. That is what a truly open society is about, and the sooner we begin to work towards it, the better for all of us!

    • Barry Cooper says

      I agree. But, in my experience officers are not always allowed to trust in the common sense of those they serve, because they have a vested interest in doing what those above want of them. I suggest that underlying bureaucratic vested interests tend to undermine common sense.
      (Sorry about the delay replying – a system problem!)

  2. Derek the social worker says

    If the case is as you describe, ‘Janet’ had a legal right to an independent mental capacity advocate to work alongside her and make representation of her human rights, as her human right to family life would potentially be being impacted by the best interests decision being made by the social care authority. If she is not being offered this, the decision is challengeable through the court of protection.

    • Barry Cooper says

      Yes, I agree. But Janet’s parents don’t know this and I have the impression that they have been steered away from the Advocacy service.
      So who should advise Janet’s parents of their legal rights?
      (Sorry about the delay replying – a system problem!)

Leave a Reply

The Author
Latest Related Work
Follow Us