Slipping through the cracks

By Rob Whiteman and Wajid Shafiq | 01 June 2020

Those working in local government, in social care especially, will be very aware of the variety of vulnerable groups within their communities. On a daily basis, councils can find themselves dealing with looked-after children, domestic abuse, adults with learning disabilities and homeless people, to name a few.

While the coronavirus pandemic has brought the level of vulnerability in our society into sharp relief, this has largely been focused on those with high clinical needs. The government’s Operation Shield identified over 2.5 million people in the UK alone who should isolate to protect themselves from COVID-19, but this was based solely on age or pre-existing medical conditions.

While this activity is needed, it does not go far enough. We cannot be certain where the data informing Operation Shield has come from, but we can be certain that it misses non-clinical vulnerabilities. The fact is, COVID-19 is not simply a hazard to health. This pandemic poses social and economic risks to many people’s lives. For example, in households where there is a history of domestic abuse, major debt issues or a pattern of child abuse, the pandemic will pose different difficulties. These are only some of the types of households who could slip through the cracks, creating higher levels of service demand both now and in the future if not identified and targeted with appropriate interventions.

The most pressing problem then for councils is determining how best to use tight resources during the outbreak. With so many potentially affected, the crisis poses serious questions around how to demonstrate a fair, well-informed, targeted support system when operating at pace in unprecedented circumstances. This is the immediate problem that CIPFA and Xantura have come together to help solve, with a view to supporting local authorities manage demand across their services both now and into the future once the immediate crisis has passed.

The use of data in local government is long standing, but generally backwards looking and based on limited data sources. This partnership is aimed at finding and protecting those in immediate need as a result of COVID-19, and those who could find themselves in need in the future, based on a much broader range of key indicators. With the support of Xantura, councils will be able to draw upon a more diverse range of data sets that can be used on a predictive basis to inform more accurate and sophisticated decision making.

This will enable participating authorities to consider where early intervention might support individuals or families before they are in critical need of help. Not only does this create better outcomes for local residents, predicting demand and modelling spend can create a future outlook of financial need. This is where CIPFA’s tools and expertise come in.

Tools that CIPFA offer as part of the service include our predictive income tool, as well as our extensive consultancy capability. Matching this with Xantura’s data expertise will support councils to approach their medium-term financial strategies with greater accuracy. It also allows us at CIPFA to give councils more accurate financial advice based on robust evidence of the demand pressures they face now and in the future.

Linking strong predictive data models to financial management and organisational resilience takes a lot of the chance out of future budgeting, allowing pressure points to be spotted and dealt with earlier.

Given the sensitive nature of the data in the system and its ability to identify vulnerable individuals, robust data sharing and information governance systems are in place. Access to the system is configured to make sure people only see data that is pre-agreed and proportionate to their work. The information governance framework specifies what data will be used by the system, what processing will be permitted, and under what circumstances data/individuals can be re-identified. 

Reliable predictive modelling has been local authorities’ nut to crack for quite some time. Our ambition is that this partnership will go some way towards overcoming historic data hurdles. As we move out of the COVID-19 response into recovery, we need to build upon evidence-led, partnership working, and not allow ourselves to retrench into silos. Only then will we be able be able to deliver better outcomes for local communities.

 Rob Whiteman CBE is chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) and Wajid Shafiq is CEO of Xantura

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Social Care CIPFA Homelessness Data Domestic abuse Coronavirus