Welfare services rely heavily on information and information systems, and greater integration between these systems is clearly needed to better deal with social problems.

A single mother may receive welfare payments from one agency, child benefits from another, housing benefits from a third, job and career counseling from a fourth, and so on. For each benefit, she has to trudge across town to different offices, meet with separate caseworkers, fill in forms and be interviewed at each place – all to get the minimum of what she needs to sustain her family.

This lack of integration and information sharing creates a stressful situation for the citizen; the bureaucracy may become so overbearing that she gives up and ends up on the street.

Governments have lost sight of the original vision of social welfare: to provide financial assistance to people and families who need temporary support, to help them through difficult periods and return them to the community as self-supporting, functioning individuals with a sense of their own worth. Instead, people become trapped on welfare because inflexible stovepipe systems can only provide people with financial benefits rather than enabling them.

While the shift from universal to discretionary block-grant benefits is controversial, focusing on outcomes rather than eligibility can ensure public money is spent on helping people find work rather than simply sustaining them while they’re unemployed.

Without coherent all-encompassing social welfare strategies, caseworkers do not know where to focus their energies and cannot work to clear goals. Without operational systems that allow them to access information on their clients from other programs, they are unable to obtain detailed knowledge of how the benefits system works.

While being trained to be knowledge workers acting as the focal point for citizen contact, they instead push paper and write checks and issue food stamps before sending the client out the door.

A person who walks into a social welfare agency with needs must be able to walk out, not in despair, but with hope.

*Article extracted from ‘eGov: e-Business Strategies for Government’ by Douglas Holmes, published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing, ISBN: 1-85788-278-4. US $29.95. To order, email:orders@nbrealey-books.com.