Your views: personalisation, direct payments, eligibility

ISSUE OF THE WEEK (26 June 2008) – Personalisation

Taxpayers won’t be so enthusiastic

How can we not support the idea of user empowerment as outlined in the view of Mark Ivory? (“Time’s up for gatekeeping”

But in reality, when the Daily Mail reports on how public money is being misspent by service users – trips abroad, season tickets for Arsenal, pub visits – taxpayers are likely to start asking questions about the “waste of money”.

Against the backdrop of a probable recession is it really conceivable that an initiative to fund an estimated nine or 10 million economically inactive people be successful? In my view economic reality will quickly undermine the personalisation agenda. It is likely that it will be significantly underfunded, with the middle classes paying for its implementation in the form of increased taxes and even rises in council tax. It will be massively unpopular with the readers of the Daily Mail and rightly so.

The middle classes who will be expected to fund the new show are rapidly becoming the new working poor, overtaxed and overburdened with debt, saddled with young adults who can’t leave home and growing resentment. Why they might ask should they fund holidays abroad, trips to the cinema, luxuries that many of the working poor simply can’t afford?

Personalisation will see the social workers who remain spending more time doing traditional social work. The rest will be heading down the road with their P45 and a feeling that they have been sold down the river. We should remember that all of the money put into this is public money raised through tax.

We need accountability for how it is spent. The service user should not set the agenda those who fund the care should call the tune. It is not unreasonable in my view that we set limits on how money is spent otherwise we are simply funding wishlists not real needs in a world of scarce resources.

I believe many social workers are likely to find themselves being surplus to requirements. In my view it is the beginning of the end for social work with adults.

Social worker (London) , name and address withheld

Less choice on the personalisation menu

Mark Ivory comments on the rewards that the personalisation agenda will bring, both for service users and practitioners but fails to address whether incapacity benefit and disability premium users will have a broad enough menu to choose from.

While the notion of service users as equal players in the arena of consumerism is still relatively new, most client groups have historically made a significant (albeit often unrecognised) contribution to the UK economy via the re-absorbtion of disability-related benefits in exchange for goods and services.

As other funding streams come on board with individual budgets this will be even more relevant. But as local authorities move towards ending block contracts to free up funds, will social care transformation extend to the writing of a shopping list to include improved access to shops and venues, responsive and accessible transport systems and an increased investment in personal assistance schemes, especially in areas where a competitive labour market exists? Without addressing these fundamental citizenship issues, our users may find themselves with less rather then more choice.

Pat Blades, care manager, Surrey

Direct payments and fraud dangers

As an experienced social worker I have undertaken care management since its inception. I have always encouraged the use of direct payments provided that an adequate level of support and robust procedures are available to protect vulnerable adults from accusations of unlawful use of public money.

Direct payments give service users control and responsibility but the emphasis in recent years has been on review, enforcement and financial audit following serious concerns over financial mismanagement.

The “flexibility” aspect of personalised budgets causes great concern. Currently, the ability to purchase services must be underpinned by legislation and purchasing ability is restricted to section 21 of the National Assistance Act 1948 and section two of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.

Given that the move to personalised budgets with “flexibility” is inevitable, I can foresee more free time for staff. However, this will likely be used on enforcement under the anti-fraud and corruption strategy rather than supporting essential care services.

Alun Chaplin, Social worker, adult disability team, Flintshire

Hollow ring to eligibility review

The proposed review of eligibility criteria for carers strikes a hollow note for many of us who are working carers. I have no hope that carers week or the government’s carers strategy will make much difference.

I am the sole carer for my husband who is a wheelchair-user. I am disabled myself and work full-time as a social worker. We live in an authority that provides the bare minimum of services, therefore we receive no support or direct payments.

If we lived in one of the 15 areas in the government’s self-directed support pilot, we would receive financial help with cleaning, gardening and a stress relieving activity for each of us once a month such as going to a football match or having a massage.

My colleagues and managers do not recognise that I have any different needs or rights at work as a disabled person and/or as a carer. The prevailing attitude is that my needs as a disabled person and as a carer are no concern of theirs.

Working in this kind of atmosphere is much more stressful and exhausting than caring for my wonderful husband, who makes me happier than most people could even begin to imagine. I am now trying to reduce my hours of work in order to cope. We will struggle to manage on my reduced income – but this is better than no income.

The recent Sharon Coleman test case in the European Court (recognising carers’ rights not to be discriminated against in the same way as those of the disabled person cared for) needs to be translated into British law urgently. Direct payments need to be removed from the current “postcode lottery” and made universally and uniformly available. These are the measures that would make a real difference to our lives and those of the people we care for.

Name and address supplied

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