Equality Reference Group Newsletter (Issue 4, December 2017)

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Equality Reference Group newsletter

       December 2017

'Edge of Care' and 'Community Connectors', a discussion on national and local context, sexual harassment, updated guidance including a disability access in the countryside and a huge thank you to the ERG's longest serving member who retired this year.

Items discussed

Edge of Care and Community Connectors

Social Care

In November's meeting we heard about 'Edge of Care' work that aims to help adults remain independent. Projects such as Garden Gate (in north Devon) and Integrated Care Exeter (ICE) are all working towards catching people earlier on and turning lives around so that people don't become dependent on paid social care workers. For example, Community Connectors, who are part of the ICE project, offer short-term intervention to enable someone to improve their health and wellbeing. This could be, for example, building someone's confidence in accessing their local gym. It will require a different skills set (more similar to coaching) to traditional care roles. We suggested taking 'positive action' to recruit Community Connectors from diverse communities.

Feedback to Devon County Council adult social care services suggests that the Council tends to offer people long term care but this can mean people can lose confidence in their own abilities and become dependent on others too quickly. The Council say they need to 'turn this on its head' and offer shorter term interventions first - things that enable people to draw on their own resources and build their strengths. 

Through the Garden Gate project the Council is having conversations with individuals who are experiencing difficulty, finding out about their journey and experience in accessing support, to identify what needs to change in terms of statutory and community services. People can 'bounce around the system' not getting their needs met - this may be because their life is chaotic or because they are not being supported holistically or in a way that will make a long term difference. We stated that the voluntary sector are good at working holistically with people.

We shared our thoughts on the pressures that families can have in looking after parents and elders in their communities. Many are working long hours and may also have children and will therefore find it hard to provide support. Many families also live far apart as people move around for economic reasons. We explored how economic issues impact on social care. We also explored the gender differences in that, currently, women tend to have better social connectedness and community skills than men - and can therefore build a supportive environment around them. This could be due to them developing those skills in earlier life as the main child carer. Age UK Devon's experience of running projects has shown women will often participate in something just for the company, but men often need a reason to go somewhere.

The Council would like to hear more stories from diverse communities (particularly in north Devon where the Garden Gate project is taking place). Please get in touch if you are interested in taking part.

Equality Annual Report

The 2017 Equality Annual Report is now available and highlights key activities and performance information.

National and local context

We heard from Councillor Barry Parsons and Roland Pyle (Head of Policy and Strategy) about political and social issues influencing the County Council.

Universal Credit has been rolled out across Devon for single people, and the next Devon Strategic Partnership conference in March 2018 will have a Welfare Reform focus. We take part in these conferences to ensure equality and diversity is considered.

Local government finance is changing and in future Councils will be 'self sufficient' - raising income from council tax and local business rates. We don't yet know how areas with low incomes and higher populations of older people like Devon will receive fair funding. Local government is also asking central government for more freedom around housing provision and Devon has been lobbying for fairer funding for schools. At present the Government is heavily focussed on its plans to leave the European Union.

A Green Paper on the long term sustainability of social care will be published soon. 

Devon County Council has joined Torbay, Plymouth and Somerset to develop a Productivity Strategy. We have been invited to contribute to the consultation process which closes on 14 December.

The County Council's budget is relatively healthy but there is a target of £22m savings for 2018/19. We have been invited to take part in the Budget Scrutiny meeting on 17th January.

We reflected on the recent event looking at the Council's new Communities Strategy. We were happy that our recommendation to include a statement from the Voluntary Sector was taken on board and enjoyed taking part in the discussions at the event.

We also discussed how organisational measures (including those used by inspectorates) can have the wrong focus and drive the wrong kind of work, and the work the Council is doing around 'Purposeful Systems' to address this.

Other information

Sexual harassment - it's OK to say it's not OK


Before the #MeToo social media campaign took pace in October, the County Council had already begun raising awareness of acceptable language (including addressing sexism) with its Members as part of their Induction. During Hate Crime Awareness Week (14-21 October) it reminded staff of guidance on reporting incidents of discrimination, harassment and hate crime. #MeToo, and the revelations of sexual harassment in the film industry and politics, prompted further responses: The Corporate Equality Officer wrote an article 'it's ok to say it's not OK', guidance on sexual harassment was issued to Members, and the staff Acceptable Behaviour policy was reviewed and updated to contain more examples of sexual harassment.

Here is our feedback for the Acceptable Behaviour Policy:

  • Provide guidance to managers on how to deal with it and how not to give a wrong response such as "just avoid him".
  • Those who have had an issue and dealt with it could be peer supporters for others.
  • Display posters in the toilets. Use the It's OK to Say It's Not OK slogan. 
  • It's easier to stand up for someone else than yourself - encourage colleagues to support and report.
  •  People are more likely to speak to a colleague about something that has made them feel uncomfortable and the recipient may not know what to do.
  •  Provide information on where to go for anonymous advice.

The council's Acceptable Behaviour policy suggests an 'informal' direct route to address minor problems and therefore these incidents may not be reported to the corporate centre. Data protection restrictions means the council cannot report details on anything below five. The Council can report the following: there have been eight allegations of sexual harassment in the past five years. The majority were against men. Five resulted in formal action (from oral warning to dismissal) or resignation, the others did not warrant further action against the accused.

Updated Guidance:

Countryside Disability Access Statement

The Devon Countryside Access Forum is a statutory body set up by the County Council under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. The role of the Forum is to improve public access to land for the purposes of open-air recreation and enjoyment. It has recently produced a Disability Access Position Statement which will be available on its website.


Bullying and Prejudice/Hate Incidents in Schools

Working with Babcock learning and development partnership and Devon and Cornwall Police, the Council's guidance for schools and young people on reporting and responding to incidents of bullying and prejudice/hate has been updated. It includes a new video explaining Allport's Scale of Prejudice and why it is important to challenge 'hate speech'.

A fond farewell to Michael Halls, Intercom Trust

Michael Halls has retired from the Intercom Trust - our LGBT representative on the Equality Reference Group. Michael has served on the ERG for a staggering 15 years and was one of its first members. We all wish him well and thank him for his contribution.

Coming up
Democracy and Transparency

Next year we plan to take a closer look at economic strategies and services to children.

Budget Scrutiny - 17th January.

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