Investing in 'Environmental Social Policies'

'Environmental social policy' is a new concept in social policymaking (Aspalter, 2007; 2010; Aspalter and Midgley, forthcoming). 'Environmental social policies' are social policies that focus on the physical environment in order to help people succeed in their lives, to do away with their problems, to enhance their capabilities and long-term development prospects. Planting trees and flowers in a rundown neighborhood may have more deep and long-lasting effects in avoiding lack of investment, unemployment, desperation, depression, addiction, crime, and so on than short-term monetary programs that do not alter behaviours and attitudes, that do not do away with vicious cycles of desolation, neglect, abuse, crime, and underdevelopment. Environmental social policies can be found in an array of contexts and in most countries around the world, for the most part, on a case-by-case basis. The physical arrangements of housing complexes, public transportation access, public safety, and, for example, a healthy integration of shopping and housing units to provide jobs in the vicinity of working-class housing complexes, all matter to the positive social, economic, and cultural development of a community or city.

Environmental social policies are, in their very essence, urban social policies and rural social policies that follow (i) the principle of positive domino effects and

(ii) the principle of the physical environment changing individual behaviour and development, all to be integrated and orchestrated under a common umbrella of developmental social policy.

For social work services, we have to get more and more out of the counselling room, into the community and, very important, into the natural environment. It would be great if social work clients could meet with their professional counsellors in a nearby park or in a coffee shop, lifting ever-more existing barriers to communication and decreasing opportunity costs of the clients, who then may even bring their kids along who then play in the park or read their magazines, and so on, in the coffee shop.

The colleague from South Africa I mentioned above took this concept much further. But, one must imagine a counsellor or a couple of counsellors hiking with a group of clients, be it for a couple of hours, or a couple of days. One can do so much more out there in the open, among the trees with the birds singing, while one is enjoying the wonderful scenery that nature provides us with. This will be so much more rewarding than sitting in a relatively sterile, even though nicely decorated, small counselling room of any social work agency.

It would be nice if, for example, my social work colleagues in Hong Kong could take their clients to enjoy the view at Victoria Harbor, or to walk around Kowloon Park with its beautiful rose garden and its pink flamingos – then sit down with their clients, spend some quality time with them, while providing professional social work services.

Investing in 'Communicational Social Policy'

Aspalter (2007a–c, 2010) developed the idea that 'social policy marketing' should play a pivotal role in the application of developmental social policies that span the entire playing field of social policies, that is, the 'old heartlands of social policy' (poverty reduction and prevention, health-care systems, pensions, child welfare policy, drug addiction, etc.) as well as 'entirely new heartlands of social policy' (social integration policies, long-term care systems, population policy, tsunami warning and evacuation systems, etc.).

Social services may be made public, awareness of the very same created, but also the social standing and acceptance of social work services may be boosted with the help of 'social policy marketing' tools, such as 'advertisements in the public interest' (or APIs). The government of Hong Kong, for example, utilizes 'advertisement in the public interest' which is a cost-effective means to achieve social policy objectives, especially the preventative aspects, but also to support curative efforts such as finding and motivating the target clientele to seek and accept help from particular social work services.

Particularly interesting is the near neutral effect of APIs on public social welfare budgets, since they can be made mandatory and free-of-charge (for example, by mandating TV and radio channels to provide five minutes of API time for every two or three hours of broadcasting). Marketing and communication professionals may work hand-in-hand with social policy and social work experts in developing, supervising, and evaluating APIs or other means of communicational social policies, to support conventional social work services, as well as new innovative, integrative social work services of all kinds that target the entire population.

Investment in Cost-Effective and Outcome-Oriented Social Service Programs

Like any social service programs, social work programs need to follow the principles of cost-effectiveness and outcome-based goal orientation. Too often, social programs are proposed, sustained, and extended in scope simply because that is the way things have been done in the past. Social work services, to gain continued financial and political support – especially in times of continued fiscal austerity – need to apply thoroughly and universally (for all programs, at all times) the principles of social service management, such as cost-effectiveness (i.e., achieving the highest levels of 'output to input ratios') and the principles of science, in such a way that belief is replaced with thorough, careful testing of any outcomes. Outcomes are not to be assumed, but tested scientifically, that is, empirically (not just logically).

The term 'poverty reduction' carries the word reduction for a purpose. When one does not succeed in reducing poverty, but just continues to administrate or manage people in poverty, one clearly misses the goal. Outcome-based goal orientation mandates strict goal setting and outcome testing, on a recurrent basis.

For this very reason, developmental social policy scholars reject the application of the method of assetand means-testing (AMT) for social transfer benefits and social services. AMT benefits and services need, in their entirety, to be replaced by

(a) NET ('non-economically targeted' benefits and services) and/or (b) universal benefits and services, to the very same extent, and put to the very same purpose.

Cash transfers and services that are designed with the method of noneconomically targeting (NET) – for example, through targeting on citizenship, residence, age, gender, ethnic groups, religious groups, work performance, school attendance, study performance, and so on, and endless combinations thereof – completely avoid the evil twin problems of the 'poverty trap' and the 'savings trap'. The same is true with universal benefits and services.

People who want to receive NET benefits and services will not (need to) crowd

out their work efforts, labor force participation, total working hours, their efforts to
save and invest money, and so forth, as these will have no effect on getting or not getting any in-cash or in-kind benefits or social services. They will not be put into the awkward position of worrying about crossing the poverty threshold when their employer gives them a higher salary, or a promotion, or increases their overall working hours. People, then, will not worry about losing out on a vast number of in-cash transfer benefits and social services that are based on the condition of them not surpassing a certain income and savings threshold.

People, by the millions, will simply not change their age, gender, residence, or the ethnic group they belong to – and in most cases, they cannot do it anyway, and this is the point – just to get additional social welfare benefits or services.

The ongoing, and mostly blind and automatic, support of AMT benefits and services is ideologically driven. Many times, social workers control the levers of power, in government or in important social organizations. Therefore, they could exert a great influence to change, once and for all, the fatal conundrum of delivering benefits and services with the wrong method – that is, AMT – instead of delivering them along the methods of universalism and/or non-economic targeting (NET).

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