Christmas: a time for sharing, for goodwill to all, and for charity appeals seeking vital support. It’s a time for generosity, giving and receiving. This year, it’s not just monetary generosity we are hoping people will share. What we are really wishing for, is the sharing of information.
Scotland has thousands of people in need of – and getting – support from hundreds of charities. Some charities work with people experiencing homelessness, people facing long-term unemployment, or perhaps providing vital mental health support. But of course, people who need support often don’t have one neat little problem; people have multiple and complex needs which require the support of more than service provider.
The Scottish Government’s No One Left Behind policy recognises this – the need for services to be integrated, person-centred and flexible. A whole-person approach that looks at the needs of the individual and other factors influencing their life which could be preventing them from reaching their full potential. The problem is that while a person may move from one service to another, very often the information about them does not. This creates several problems: intrusion, repetition, and ignorance.
It is intrusive – and time-wasting – for each service somebody uses to extract the same information an individual. Large amounts of time are taken up by entering basic facts of age, gender, ethnicity and so forth. This means that charities are using their limited resources on gathering basic information which exists elsewhere. Most importantly, it often involves an individual sharing personal and at times traumatic details over and over. This creates a barrier for people seeking support and instantly brings to light a flaw in the wider support system.
The big question is to understand what works and what doesn’t. Take, for example, charities that work in criminal justice and rehabilitation. How do we capture the long-term impact on the individual? One possibility is to contact people they have helped one year on to assess whether they have been successfully rehabilitated. But this is self-evidently a patchy and unreliable method.
There is a better way. The government hold records of people who have been convicted. Given a list of people who have passed through a rehabilitation service, they could report on how many – in aggregate – were successfully rehabilitated. This would also serve as a tool to analyse the success of the support offered – which models work and which don’t. This could significantly impact people involved in criminal justice and support communities to reduce the harm of crime.
We ask the Scottish Government to seriously consider reviewing its information sharing activities. GDPR significantly changed the way we look at information and data. Rightly so, we are looking to protect people and their right to only have their information held by those who need it. However, we live in a society where people have multiple needs, and by not sharing key information we are creating extra barriers for those already at a disadvantage in society. Ensuring information is shared in the right way may have its difficulties, but it should not be used as reason not to try.