With parliament deadlocked, people are looking for alternative ways to break the Brexit impasse. Many have been suggested, from the Queen intervening to the formation of a government of national unity. Among the options is a citizens’ assembly (or similar deliberative process). Tim Hughes discusses four potential ways in which a citizens’ assembly could help break the current deadlock.
A citizens’ assembly is a body of citizens – typically 50 to 250 – that learn about an issue and deliberate over possible options, before reaching a collective decision. Like jury service, citizens are chosen at random to take part in the citizens’ assembly. Unlike jury service, they’re often also selected to be demographically representative of the wider population, forming what is called a ‘mini-public’. The idea is that the citizens’ assembly looks and feels like a miniature version of the wider public.
Citizens’ assemblies are fantastic tools for addressing challenging issues. They enable members of the public – not weighed down by party political interests or aspirations – to learn in depth about an issue through hearing from expert witnesses and discussions with people from all walks of life. And after that learning and deliberation, they reach a collective decision.
There is no more challenging issue at the moment than Brexit, so it’s unsurprising that citizens’ assemblies have been proposed as a possible solution. But while citizens’ assemblies have been used to tackle some very controversial issues – including abortion in Ireland – one has never been attempted in a political and media environment quite as febrile as the current Brexit debate. Continue reading →
The Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care was the first of its kind to be commissioned by parliament in the UK. It builds on the work Involve did with the Constitution Unit on the Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit last September. Over two weekends 47 members of the public deliberated on how adult social care in England should be funded long-term. The recommendations will feed into the joint inquiry by the Health and Social Care Select Committee and the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee. As Dr Rebecca McKee explains, this is another example of how the public are capable of engaging in complex topics and producing well informed and workable recommendations.
How should we pay for social care? This question has been the subject of much debate, with numerous proposals by successive governments, thinktanks, and others being published but never successfully implemented. Although there is consensus on the need for reform, exactly how to do it has fallen into what former Cabinet minister Charles Clarke has labelled the ‘too difficult box’. Later this year the government plans to publish its Green Paper on funding social care for older people. Ahead of this, the Commons Health and Social Care and the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committees are conducting a joint inquiry to develop a cross-party consensus on ideas for reforming the funding of this sector.
The Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care asked the question of how adult social care in England should be funded long-term. Assembly members were asked to look at adult social care for both people of working age and older adults. They reflected on questions such as how much individuals should have to pay themselves, how much should be covered by public funding, and whether personal assets, such as houses, should be included in calculations of what they might be expected to contribute. Continue reading →