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Coronavirus has placed unprecedented pressure on our public services. What lessons can be learned?

Coronavirus has placed unprecedented pressure on our public services. What lessons can be learned?

The crisis has demonstrated the state’s ability to increase the capacity of public services, like the NHS, quickly when necessary, says Baroness Armstrong. | Credit: PA Images

3 min read

The newly-formed House of Lords Public Services Committee is launching an urgent inquiry to explore the main areas of public service success and failure during the Covid-19 outbreak, looking at what lessons can be learned to shape future reform.

Covid-19 has been the biggest shock to our economy and society since World War Two.

The loss of life and disruption to communities across the country have been devasting. We have seen heroic efforts from frontline staff to ensure our communities are supported during lockdown.

The pandemic has presented our public services with one of the gravest challenges in recent history, requiring and encouraging  radical thinking in some areas of public policy. For example, in an unprecedented move the government which aims to eradicate rough sleeping within five years wrote to local authorities asking them to house all rough sleepers within five days.

The crisis has demonstrated the state’s ability to increase the capacity of public services, like the NHS, quickly when necessary.

Action to deal with the effects of the outbreak has fostered numerous community initiatives to support people during the lockdown. These schemes have seen collaboration between community groups, the voluntary sector, NHS and social care providers, police, local authorities and other services to ensure that the needs of local communities are met.

Will the transformation seen in some service areas remain once the crisis is over, however?

The crisis has also highlighted some fundamental weaknesses in the design of public services, such as the lack of integration between health, social care and other services. How will these lessons from the crisis inform the future design of public services?

We want to find out what innovation and new ways of working to deliver public services as a result of coronavirus have there been.

To explore these questions, the newly-formed House of Lords Public Services Committee is launching an urgent inquiry to explore the main areas of public service success and failure during the Covid-19 outbreak, looking at what lessons can be learned to shape future reform.

The inquiry will focus on key areas including:

  • Integration of services;
  • Inequalities in access and outcome;
  • Relationships between local and national services; and
  • The role of civil society (private sector, charities, volunteers and community groups) during the pandemic.

Were services able to identify vulnerable children during lockdown to ensure that they were attending school or receiving support from statutory services? How have adults with complex needs been supported?

Have inequalities worsened during lockdown?

Did public services have the digital skills and technology required to respond to the crisis? 

We want to find out what innovation and new ways of working to deliver public services as a result of coronavirus have there been.

How well were public services able to cooperate in order to respond to people’s needs during the Covid-19 outbreak? One criticism often levelled at public services is that they operate in ‘silos’. We will look at whether this limited how public services responded to people’s needs during the Covid-19 outbreak and if some local areas, where services were well integrated before the crisis, were able to respond better to the outbreak than where that was less developed.

Late last year an Institute for Government report said that the government would have to increase spending significantly to improve public services, particularly adult social care, as demand rises faster than population growth due to an ageing population and the number of people with multiple needs increases.

Since that report was published coronavirus has placed unprecedented pressure on our public services.

With demand likely to rise in a significantly diminished economy, the post-coronavirus world will present new challenges and difficult choices for our public services. This new world will require a radical  rethink of how they respond to the needs of the communities that they serve.

The committee’s Call for Evidence is here.

Baroness Armstrong is a Labour member of the House of Lords and chair of the House of Lords Public Services Committee

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