Don’t worry Angels is not getting involved with elections, but I have been reflecting a lot recently on the importance of our independence and the challenges that maintaining it presents.

One seemingly trivial item from my advocacy training stands out for me and it was this…never give anyone a lift. Being me, I questioned it. It didn’t sit right with me to see a professional colleague I had been in a meeting with stood in the rain waiting for a bus when I was going their way or, seeing a client walk because they can’t afford the bus to get home from a meeting. It made me feel mean and even now several years on, it still goes against the grain and I have to harden my heart sometimes.

The reality is there is nothing even remotely trivial about such a seemingly small act and it goes to the heart of independence and why I am determined that Angels keep its independence at all costs.

If a client saw a social worker or other professional get into my car, it wouldn’t matter how hard it was raining, the perception would still be; that we talked about them, that we were friends, that I was on the side of the authority. That one small act of apparent kindness would undo the trust that client had in me to be independent.

That trust in my independence works both ways. Professional colleagues also have to be able to trust in my integrity to allow me to be the bridge builder between the two, sometimes opposing sides. They need to trust that if I raise a challenge then I do so without bias.

Now we get to the cost and it’s not about feeling a bit mean for not giving a lift to someone. The real cost is about how statutory advocacy is funded.

Some of our most vulnerable people have a statutory right to have an independent advocate including; children in care, people in care homes or in hospital, people who are detained under the mental health act. These people have the right to an independent advocate precisely because the government realizes that these are the people who without an advocate, often go unheard. These are the people who have decisions made for them; decisions about where they live and what treatment they receive, even whether they can live freely. These huge, life-changing decisions are being taken every day by authorities and independent advocates should be a crucial part of the process in presenting the client’s views and wishes.

So far so good, the advocacy happens, providers are doing some fantastic work and advocates are valued by clients and authorities alike, but can we really say it is independent?

The current way statutory advocacy is funded in Cumbria, is that providers have contracts with the local authority and I understand that there needs to be a guarantee of provision and that the council needs to budget and be fiscally responsible. The problem is one of perception and we go back to the perception of giving someone a lift.

I have encountered several clients who have needed an advocate and have an entitlement to statutory advocacy, but have gone without an advocate because their referral has to be approved by the authority. Naturally, their perception is that there is a lack of independence, therefore a lack of trust and they are the ones left standing in the rain.

The decision that Angels has taken is not to apply for any funding which is offered in this way and that’s hard. We took the decision at the outset to offer our services to all, whether there was a statutory entitlement or not.

Angels is committed to finding another way of funding this much needed work to ensure that we can continue to act as true independent advocates, for everyone who needs us.