TRANSFORMING SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS ADMINISTRATION FOR THE TWENTY‐FIRST CENTURY: TOWARDS ONE‐STOP SERVICES AND THE CLIENT GROUP PRINCIPLE?

DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9299.1996.tb00864.x
AuthorCHRISTINE BELLAMY
Published date01 June 1996
Date01 June 1996
TRANSFORMING SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS
ADMINISTRATION FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST
CENTURY: TOWARDS
ONE-STOP
SERVICES
AND THE CLIENT GROUP PRINCIPLE?
CHRISTINE
BELLAMY
The creation of the new Social Security Benefits Agency in
1991
coincided with the final
installation in local offices of the first Operational Strategy computer systems, which
automated large parts of social security benefits administration. Since then the agency
has refocused its strategic thinking towards a ten-year development programme which
is centred around plans for ‘one-stop’ benefits delivery. The article shows why this
programme is dependent on ’informatization’- the generation from, and application to,
social security administration of new kinds of information, made possible by
information and communications technologies
(ICTS).
It assesses the feasibility and
implications of informatizing benefits administration and the likely effects of continuing
pr,essures to reduce administrative costs.
It
argues that, whilst the agency will become
more customer focused, the practical outcomes are likely to be two-edged for claimants.
At a policy level, informatization will reinforce political pressures to rationalize and
target the benefits system, especially
if
information-management problems are
controlled by a shift to the client group principle.
INTRODUCTION
In
1977,
the Department of Health and Social Security set up a hgh level Social
Security Operational Strategy Working Group
(SSOSWG).
The establishment of
this group reflected deep and growing fears at the top of
DHSS
that the social
security benefits system was rapidly becoming impossible to administer. The
upshot was the Operational Strategy, a long-term programme of administrative
reform which was set out in
two
documents published in the early
1980s;
a
Consultation Paper in
1980
and a Green Paper in early
1982
(DHSS
1980;
1982).
These
two
papers endorsed the conviction
of
many top officials that benefits
administration was
in
real danger of collapsing, but they also began to develop a
Christine
Bellamy
is
Professor of Public
Administration
at
the
Nottingham
Trent University
Public
Administration
Vol.
74
Summer
1996
(159-179)
0
Crown
copyright
1996.
Published with the permission
of
the
Controller
of
Her
Majesty’s Stationery Office.
The views expressed are those
of
the author and do not necessarily reflect the views
or
policy
of
the Department
of
Social
Security
or
any other government department.
160
CHRISTINE
BELLAMY
vision of the future which anticipates many contemporary ideas for improving
service to the public.
By
the time the Consultation Paper was published in 1980,
it was clear that
SSOSWG
had developed a strategy which would depend on
massive investment in new technology. Indeed, mainly because
DHSS
was a long
way back in exploiting
IT,
‘computerization’ dominated the implementation of
the Strategy until the early 1990s.
It
is this aspect which has also preoccupied
academics (for example, Dyerson and Roper 1990a, 1990b; Margetts 1991;
Cohgridge and Margetts 1994). Many of the computer systems are now in
place, and strategic thinking within Benefits Agency has been refocused on the
problems and opportiinities they present for the future. However,
much
has
moved on since 1982, not least the range of available technologies. Moreover,
thinking about operational issues is now framed by major political questions
about the future of social security.
The purpose of this article, therefore, is to examine the implications and
feasibility of long-term administrative reform in the light of the legacy
bequeathed by the computerization of social security. It argues that many of
the ideas which have emerged within
BS,
particularly within Benefits Agency’s
Development Directorate, amount to the ‘informatization’ of benefits adminis-
tration (Frissen 1992; Bellamy and Taylor 1994) in contrast to the ’automation’
perspective which has hitherto been applied to the Operational Strategy.
’Automation’ refers to the assumption that the major purpose of investment in
technology is to substitute capital equipment for human labour, primarily to reap
efficiency gains. It is associated with a focus on the development and
management
of
discrete technology projects, and it is not perceived to imply
fundamental changes in the way the organization conducts its business. In
contrast, ’informatization’ refers to an emphasis on creating and exploiting new
information capabilities, particularly those which are liberated by
networking
computer systems by means of communications technologies (Zuboff 1988;
Taylor 1992). Thus, new information flows in and around networked systems,
permit innovative ways of using information which can facilitate, and may even
encourage, changes in business processes, in organizational configurations, in
service delivery and in relationships with customers. In turn, these changes may
ultimately amount to a significant transformation of the organization (Scott
Morton 1991). In the case of social security, pressure for long-term, radical
organizational change is being stimulated by complex interactions between the
possibilities liberated by new information and communications technologies
WB)
with two other important forces. These forces are the ’push’ of efficiency
maximization and the ’pull’ of new pressures to deliver high quality public
services.
’Efficiency push derives from the enormous upfront investment costs
associated with the introduction and continual refreshment of large-scale
ICTS.
These costs make the achievement of stasis in the exploitation of technology
difficult to achieve, because they generate a continual search for increasing
returns. In organizations like
ms
which have become strategically dependent on
ICB,
this search can ultimately be maintained only by changing radically the
0
Crown
Copynght
1996

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