A citizens’ assembly is a group of people who are brought together to discuss an issue or issues, and reach a conclusion about what they think should happen. The people who take part are chosen so they reflect the wider population – in terms of demographics (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity, social class) and sometimes relevant attitudes (e.g. preferences for a small or large state).

Citizens’ assemblies give members of the public the time and opportunity to learn about and discuss a topic, before reaching conclusions. Assembly Members are asked to make trade-offs and arrive at workable recommendations.

Citizens’ assemblies, and other similar methods, have been used in the UK and other countries – including Australia, Canada, and the United States – to address a range of complex issues. A citizens’ assembly is currently taking place in the Republic of Ireland – established by the Irish Parliament – to address a number of important legal and policy issues facing Irish society. These have included equal marriage, abortion and the opportunities and challenges of an ageing population.

What did the Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care consider?

The Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care considered the question of how adult social care in England should be funded long term. This included issues like how much individuals should have to pay themselves, versus how much should be publicly funded. It covered adult social care for both older and working age adults.

Adult social care is the support provided to adults with physical or learning disabilities, or physical or mental illnesses. It includes support for older people, and also for some working age adults with disabilities or illnesses. The support could be for personal care (such as eating, washing, or getting dressed) or for domestic routines (such as cleaning or going to the shops).

Why hold a Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care?

Social care provision and funding has been the subject of numerous reports, commissions and Government papers over many years. Despite agreement on the urgent need for reform, this has not translated into action or consensus on how it should be achieved.

Ahead of the Government’s Green Paper, the Health and Social Care Select Committee and the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee are holding a short inquiry to identify funding reforms which will command broad consensus, and which will enable the Government to make swift and tangible progress in this area.

Citizens’ assemblies have been effective in the UK and internationally at a) giving decision-makers a detailed understanding of informed public opinion on complex issues; and b) opening up the space for political consensus to be found.

Who ran the Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care?

The Health and Social Care Select Committee and the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee commissioned the Citizens’ Assembly as part of their joint inquiry into the long term funding of adult social care.

The Assembly was organised by Involve – the UK’s leading public participation charity, on a mission to put people at the heart of decision-making. Involve are experts in how to design, facilitate and project manage citizens’ assemblies, as well as other methods that enable the public to participate in decision-making.

Two charitable foundations – the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Omidyar Network – also contributed funds, but had no involvement in the Assembly’s design or delivery.

How were the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care be taken on board?

The Assembly’s recommendations fed into the joint inquiry by the Health and Social Care Select Committee and the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee. The Select Committees’ Members considered them, alongside other evidence submitted to the inquiry, when deciding on their own recommendations for how adult social care should be funded. The Assembly’s findings will also be published separately on the Committees’ website.

Who were the Assembly Members?

The Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care was made up of 47 English citizens who are eligible to vote in UK general elections. The members were recruited with the help of ICM to be representative of the English population in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic group, place of residence, and attitudes towards a small/large state. They included people with direct experience of social care for both working age adults and older people.

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