Written evidence from User Voice
In answering the question about the design of probation, my answer is simple. The answer of User Voice is simple. Design, delivery, and evaluation cannot be done without the insight of the people using the services.
The input of people with lived experience has always been crucial to the design and delivery of rehabilitation services. There is a moral argument for this. If we truly believe in rehabilitation, that people can change, then we must show them this belief by asking their opinion. Being given a voice is an intervention in itself. It builds self-confidence, self-worth and the skills to navigate into successful living.
There is also an economic argument. Getting feedback on what’s working, what can be improved and how makes services more (cost) effective. So, they are more likely to have the desired impact, reducing reoffending, creating fewer victims and less crime.
As a result, in recent years, involvement, co-production, collaboration, whatever label it’s given, has become increasingly popular. Many charities and providers now employ people with lived experience, and they will often have a manager responsible for involvement.
Statutory services and Government Departments have also recognised the importance and have developed policies around this. For example, the Ministry of Justice has published Standards of Excellence and a Toolkit for the involvement of its service users and NHS England has developed a Framework for Patient and Public Participation in Health and Justice Commissioning.
When I founded User Voice over 10 years ago none of this existed. So, while this is to be welcomed, it also comes with a caveat. The devil is in the detail. There is a danger that the way in which people with lived experience of being in prison or on probation are involved is tokenistic.
It all comes down to power. Traditionally public services have been designed without real input from the people using them. Services are done to people. The evidence shows this doesn’t work, with programmes forced on a group of people who know what they need but aren’t given the opportunity, encouragement, or support to voice this.
Most organisations now state that they are listening and giving people a voice. So, has everything suddenly shifted? Have people been truly empowered? Can they say what they want without fear of the consequences? Are they given the right training and support? Is there funding to make the changes they suggest? Are they speaking directly with the people who make decisions? Who has a voice? People who’s face fits, are least challenging or who shout the loudest? Are they representative of their community? Where are the people with lived experience on the pay scale? Are there opportunities for them to become managers or even the CEO?
These are some of the questions that need to be asked. Is what’s being done tokenism, or does it provide meaningful opportunities?
We need to give people with lived experience a stake in their own success, giving them an independent voice to directly influence policy makers, who then change services. I am incredibly passionate about this distinction and the belief that people with lived experience can represent themselves if given the opportunity, encouragement and support.
This is why I set up User Voice. And why 10 years later User Voice sill exits.
We work in over 60% of CRCs and have reviewed the issues and solutions raised by our councils over the last 12 months:
These are the areas that people on probation want to see improve. The issues as they see them. We don’t analyse or interpret. We have just given them a platform. It sounds simple but there is a science to our model, that has been developed over 15 years by people like me, with lived experience. Importantly, the voices you will hear are user-led, independent and democratic.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made the necessity for an independent voice even more important. This group was marginalised, vulnerable and largely voiceless before the pandemic and is now even more marginalised, vulnerable and has no voice.
So now more than ever, this group, my group, need to be given the opportunity to directly influence national policy making. This will ensure that as the restrictions are eased, as people and services adapt to a new way of living and working and as probation services are fundamentally redesigned, the insight of people with lived experience is at the centre.