By Justine Hodgkinson, CEO, Advocacy Focus

Last week we pulled out all the stops to support the first ever Advocacy Awareness Week.  The dynamic National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi) had sent out a call to action to all advocacy providers.  The missive: To raise awareness of our sector and highlight the importance of community advocacy. 

Easy right? Well, not so much when you are dealing with a word that is potentially a barrier itself.  Advocacy.  What does it mean?  What does it do? How do you get it and what will it cost?  If you were to ask members of the public what advocacy means in 2018, many will answer that it is something to do with the legal profession.  In fact Wikipedia describes advocacy as, ‘an activity by an individual or group which aims to influence decisions within political, economic and social systems and institutions’.  Blimey, did we have a steep hill to climb. 

Fortunately much of the groundwork for the week was already well underway in our organisation.  Mainly because here at Advocacy Focus we believe in plain, jargon free information.  Not just for people who may have additional needs when it comes to reading, but for busy people who just need to know what they need to know.  As my grandma used to say ‘never overegg the pudding Justine’, and she was right. 

We’re doing away with acronyms which were once thrown around like confetti:  IMCA; IMHA; DoLS; RPR; MHA; MCA and we are telling it like it is.

We’re doing away with acronyms which were once thrown around like confetti:  IMCA; IMHA; DoLS; RPR; MHA; MCA and we are telling it like it is.  The word advocacy and the sum of all its parts, is too clever for its own good.  Our sector needs to get its messaging right, failure to do so will be failing the people we serve.  It’s confusing for a newbie like me that has only been in this job for four years, let alone the people and stakeholders that desperately need our services.  So last week, our community team hit the ground running and loudly trumpeted the arrival of #AAW18. 

As well as raising awareness and demystifying what advocacy is, we were talking about the need for preventative or community advocacy. The provision of statutory advocacy simply wasn’t enough.  So what’s the difference I hear you cry?  Well in answer to that, let me take you back to 2014 and the arrival of the Care Act.  Legislation that placed wellbeing at its heart. 

In reality its arrival meant that local authorities, that were already experiencing significant budget cuts, had a duty to provide further statutory advocacy to their residents – they were already providing advocacy under the Mental Health Act and Mental Capacity Act.  Contracts we held at the time were skillfully re-negotiated and contact variations put into place, to provide a further strand of statutory advocacy. Conversations were ongoing about how savings could be made so statutory services could continue to safeguard and support those that needed it the most.  Statutory advocacy became top dog, the priority for cash-strapped commissioners. And so began the slow demise of community based, non-statutory advocacy across the country.

So what does that mean at a local level?  Has the reduction, or in many cases, the loss of non-statutory, community based advocacy had an impact?  Undoubtedly it has.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that enabling people to be the very best version of themselves is worth investing in.  Everyone, even those that are experiencing significant challenges, want to feel in control of their lives.  Able and enabled masters of their own destiny. 

Why don’t we focus on prevention, rather than intervention?

So why don’t we help that cause?  Why don’t we focus on prevention, rather than intervention? The fact of the matter is that local authorities have a duty - which means legally they have to - provide statutory advocacy.  And there is only so much money in the pot to pay for it.  By 2020, that pot will shrink even further, as local authorities have to balance their books without any help from central government. 

So where does that leave our sector and more importantly the man and woman in the street that desperately need a professional friend in their corner?  At Advocacy Focus we have a strong call to action, ‘Advocacy for All’.  It’s bold, but we wouldn’t settle for less.  We know that at some point in anyone’s life they may need someone on their side.  Someone who can help them be seen, heard and involved in their care and treatment.  We also know that ‘prevention is better than cure’.  So we make our funding work hard for our communities.  We co-produce all we do with the people that have or will use or service, we develop self-advocacy resources so that people can be their own best advocate. 

Our Justice for LB Toolkit was developed so that people with learning or communication difficulties could be more involved in shaping their future.  We invested in Community Engagement Advocates that deliver our assertive outreach programme in our communities.  We ‘pop-up’ in markets, shopping centres and at events to listen to, talk to and signpost people onto the service they need.  We demystify what advocacy is, so that people know immediately if it’s what they need to help them, their friends or their families.

We do that all year round and will continue to do so, in fact we are just getting started. It helps that we had a special week dedicated to this cause and for that we thank NDTi.  It focuses the mind and reminds us that our sector matters and that even though we wish it wasn’t the case, people need us.  We are here to stop people falling through the cracks.  We are here to help people live the lives they want to live. 

  • Want to join us in supporting our communities and our legacy for AAW18?  Get involved by volunteering or fundraising for us. Advocacy for all starts here.