What is a citizens’ assembly?

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 will the Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care consider?

The Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care will consider the question of how adult social care in England should be funded long term. This includes issues like how much individuals should have to pay themselves, versus how much should be publicly funded. It will cover 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 is running the Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care?

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

The Assembly is being organised by Involve – a public participation charity that works 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 Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and The Omidyar Network – have also contributed funds, but have no involvement in the Assembly’s design or delivery.

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

The Assembly’s recommendations will feed 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 will consider 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 are the Assembly Members?

The Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care will be made up of 45 to 50 English citizens who are eligible to vote in UK general elections. The members are being 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 will include people with direct experience of social care for both working age adults and older people.

In order to encourage and support participation, Assembly Members are provided with an honorarium of £150 per weekend.

There is no option to directly apply to be a member of the Citizens’ Assembly as members are selected randomly (through a process called random stratified sampling) to ensure they are representative of the general public.

When and where will the Assembly meetings take place?

The Assembly will meet over two weekends (27th-29th April and 18th-20th May) in central Birmingham.

What will happen during the Assembly meetings?

At the first weekend, Assembly Members will hear from expert contributors who together reflect the range of views on how adult social care should be funded. Assembly Members will hear presentations from the contributors and spend time questioning them. They will discuss what they say in small groups, identifying the issues and arguments that they feel to be most important.

At the second weekend, Assembly Members will discuss what they have heard and reach a set of recommendations. To do this they will work through a series of exercises, involving small groups discussions, as well as some voting and ranking of options.

The weekends will be led by professional facilitators and there will also be facilitators on each table. It’s their role to make sure everyone can be heard and feels comfortable, as well as to explain each of the exercises. Facilitators only explain and answer questions about the Assembly’s process – any questions about the issue under discussion (i.e. social care) get referred to the Assembly’s Expert Lead, Professor Martin Knapp from the London School of Economics.

How do you ensure that the Assembly is accessible to everyone?

It is important, particularly on a subject such as social care, that a citizens’ assembly is accessible to everyone. This is ensured in a number of ways.

The costs of members attending the Assembly are covered in full, including providing travel, accommodation and meals. In addition, Assembly Members are provided with an honorarium of £150 per weekend in order to encourage and support their participation.

This both recognises the time that Assembly Members are giving up to take part and ensures that a diverse range of participants (e.g. including those on low-incomes, unemployed, with caring responsibilities, etc.) can participate.

The venue for the Assembly is fully accessible and all accessibility requirements of Assembly Members are taken into account. This includes, where needed, providing materials in Braille or large print and sign language interpretation. The costs of carers, respite care and child care are also covered where needed.

The Assembly proceedings are carefully designed to enable the full participation of all members. Small group work ensures that all participants are able to contribute and have time to reflect and develop their own opinions, particularly those less confident in public speaking. The exercises and techniques that are used are specifically designed to support Assembly Members to engage with complex information and feel able to put their opinion forward, with no prior knowledge needed.

How will you ensure that the information Assembly Members receive is balanced and accurate?

In order to ensure balance and accuracy, an Expert Lead has been appointed to advise on the selection of expert contributors and development of materials. The Expert Lead, Professor Martin Knapp from the London School of Economics, is well respected for his knowledge and impartiality on the subject of social care.

In addition, an Advisory Panel is supporting preparations for the Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care. Its role is to help ensure that the Assembly’s plans and materials are factually accurate, comprehensive, balanced and unbiased. The Advisory Panel Members are:

  • Caroline Glendinning, University of York
  • James Lloyd, formerly of the Strategic Society Centre
  • Kari Gerstheimer, Mencap
  • Raphael Wittenberg, London School of Economics
  • Warwick Lightfoot, Policy Exchange

Who are the expert contributors?

Assembly members will hear from a range of expert contributors, selected to cover the breadth of opinion on how social care should be funded.

Speaking on options for how any private financing (i.e. by individuals) of the system should work and views on the optimal balance between private and public financing, Assembly Members will hear from: Anna Bailey-Bearfield, Care and Support Alliance; Dominic Carter, Alzheimer’s Society; Emily Holzhausen, Carers UK; Jim Boyd, Reform; and Simon Bottery, Kings Fund.

Speaking on options for how any public financing of the system should work and views on the optimal balance between private and public financing, Assembly Members will hear from: Edward Davies, Centre for Social Justice (tbc); Jane Vass, Age UK; Jon Glasby, University of Birmingham; Mike Date, Mencap; Sarah Pickup, Local Government Association.

Is it possible to observe the process?

There are a limited number of spaces for observers. Observing would allow you to see how the citizens’ assembly process functions. However, observers are unable to join tables to listen into discussion and deliberation as this can change how participants engage with the process.

To request an observer spot please contact Becca Bunce.

Is it possible to interview participants?

This will not be possible on the first weekend, however there may be an opportunity on the second weekend.

Participants are anonymous throughout the process. On the second weekend we will give participants the option to waive anonymity in order to speak to the media.

For media inquiries please email/call: Becca Bunce at Involve or +44 (0) 20 37454334.