Social workers should do more to promote personal budgets for employment support, says study

Report from National Development Team for Inclusion finds personal budgets rarely used to support people into paid work

Picture credit: Photofusion/Rex Features

Some social workers’ belief that employment is not a social care goal is one factor behind the low usage of personal budgets for employment support, a new study has found.
The study by the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi) found only a third of employment support providers surveyed had received any income through personal budgets during the past 18 months and the median number of people using personal budgets funding for employment support in each organisation was just three.

But the report said the figures could be overstated as organisations with experience of personal budgets for employment support might have been more likely to respond to the survey.
The research, which included 58 survey responses from providers of employment support plus five in-depth site visits, looked at the extent to which personal budgets were used to buy support to enable recipients to do paid jobs and what factors helped or hindered the use of personal budgets for this.
The research found low demand from some personal budget recipients or their families, including low expectations and a lack of knowledge and poor information about personal budgets for employment support.

Social worker attitudes

It also said there were problems with the attitudes of some professionals, including social workers, towards using personal budgets for employment support. These included a belief that employment was not a social care priority, that personal budgets should focus on social care needs and a lack of knowledge of local employment support provision.
Often the use of personal budgets for employment support was instigated by demand from family members or promotion by employment support providers and not by social workers.
The study found problems with the personal budget process, such as complex and inflexible payment mechanisms, employment rarely being identified as an outcome in assessments and poor-quality support planning.
It also revealed a shortage of employment support provision that was backed up by evidence of its success.

Assessment and eligibility barriers

Another hurdle was that personal budgets are provided to people who have eligible needs for support under the Fair Access to Care Services guidance, so people with needs below the elligibility threshold, which is critical or substantial in most authorities, do not get a budget for employment support. There was also no focus on employment support in the assessment so no resources were allocated to it.
Some people also mistakenly believed that personal budgets could not be used for employment support
the research recommended that there should be local supported employment provision available for everyone, including those who have social care needs but are not eligible for support.
Councils should promote employment as a social care outcome that is documented in the assessment process so that funding is identified for it, the report added.
It also said commissioners should ensure there are employment support services in the area that are backed up by evidence of their effectiveness.
The paper recommended that there should also be improved information for families and budget recipients about using budgets to support employment.
Rich Watts, programme lead at the NDTi said: “Having a job has proven benefits for people, the communities they live in, and for the taxpayer. The new Care Act recognises this by stating work is a local authority well-being outcome. As a result, local authorities with social service responsibilities must ensure they focus on employment, and personal budgets are one way to achieve this.”

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