New Report Identifies Importance of Life Course Perspective to Policy Planning

Friday, 6 May 2011

A life course approach to policy planning now will promote solidarity between future generations

A report into the developmental welfare state was launched today by Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton TD, at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin. The research report is entitled ’Community Engagement in Ireland’s Developmental Welfare State: A Study of the Life Cycle Approach.’ The research was funded by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

“This research demonstrates the understanding that community organisations have of the needs of ordinary people in the current economic climate. It is extremely relevant to Government because it provides a clear picture of the realities of policy-making in challenging times,” said Minister Burton.

The NUI Galway research report is the product of an 18-month study and consultative research process by researchers at the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology and School of Business and Economics. The result is a highly relevant and timely research report that sheds light on current and future policy priorities for vulnerable groups.

Research results show that successful social policy planning requires a focus on the future, which means taking a life course perspective and a ’person-centred’ approach [i.e. planning for the childhood, maturity and old age of babies born today].

The report states that achieving that person-centred approach is challenging but achievable. The key is to put the citizen at the centre.

“The idea that ’people matter’ in policy planning is recognised by international organisations such as the UN,” said lead author of the report, Dr. Gemma Carney. “In Ireland, we are fortunate to have an engaged and resourceful community sector that is willing to speak up for less fortunate groups. The test now is how we use that resource in challenging economic circumstances,” she added.

There is room for learning in terms of how policy is developed for current and future generations. Best practice for one vulnerable group should be used to inform development of policy for others. “A life course perspective is about being both strategic and practical,” says Dr. Carney. “Recommendations of the National Positive Ageing Strategy, when that is published, should be mindful of what is already published in the National Women’s Strategy. This hasn’t been done in the past and, as a result, lack of educational opportunities, combined with caring responsibilities leave many women without an old age pension. If we were planning for the whole life course, our system of social protection would help women avoid these sorts of later life traps.”

The researchers concluded that the broad range of strategies used by community activists inside and outside social partnership are an asset for good governance. Dr Tony Dundon, co-author of the report, added: “By embracing diversity and engaging in social dialogue, new opportunities for creativity and participation can benefit society more generally. Our research shows that the vitality of the community and voluntary pillar in Ireland is an exemplar of equity, voice and governance in policy-making.”

Research participants from the Community and Voluntary pillar demonstrated a wide range of policy innovations in supporting vulnerable citizens across all life stages. Children’s rights, long-term care for older people, implementation of national strategies, and unemployment are among some of the key outstanding issues.

Community activists who engaged in the research cited the Developmental Welfare State, itself an initiative of social partnership, as highly significant. The research recommends that a clear national strategy should be established in order to accomplish the Developmental Welfare State by embracing diversity and inclusion in both social and economic policy-making.

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