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Social workers lead fightback against personal budgets bureaucracy

Social worker and client Rex Burger Phanie 1

Along with death and taxes, one of the few certainties in recent years was that Community Care’s annual survey of social care practitioners’ views on personalisation would highlight widespread disquiet about levels of bureaucracy. So it was with this year’s survey, whose most concerning result was that 77% of respondents thought their council had not reduced the level of bureaucracy in the personal budgets process in the past year.

Bureaucracy – whether in the shape of multiple and complex forms for assessment, support planning and review, impenetrable resource allocation systems, lengthy panel processes for signing off budgets or clunky IT systems – is not just a bugbear for practitioners. This year’s National Personal Budgets Survey, commissioned by the Think Local Act Personal (TLAP) partnership, showed personal budgets’ ability to deliver good outcomes for service users and carers is significantly enhanced the less bureaucracy there is in the process. A very similar message was contained in the 2011 survey and the evaluation of the personal health budgets pilots.

But perhaps the message is finally getting through. Today, TLAP publishes case studies of 20 councils (one-seventh of the total in England) who have taken effective steps to roll back the tide of bureaucracy, alongside a short report with some tips for doing the same. We feature five of the 20 councils – Camden, Essex, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Southend – in a series of good practice pieces, also published today, that illustrate that social workers are at the forefront of efforts to liberate personal budgets from unnecessary restrictions and delays.

In Essex, trained practitioners have been given the licence to sign-off most of their assessments, other than in complex cases, speeding up the process of setting up a personal budget for families. In Camden and Portsmouth, social workers have been heavily involved in slimming down and redesigning paperwork to remove duplication in the information required of people seeking support, and redesigning processes to ensure people are not unnecessarily passed between practitioners and forced to repeat their story.

In Southend, social workers have influenced the introduction of mobile working technology  that enables them to upload assessments onto the council’s care management and performance reporting systems without returning to the office. And in Norfolk, personalisation champions were appointed on each team to support other staff in driving up previously low levels of personal budgets take-up.

The central role of social workers should come as no surprise. Our annual surveys have identified a strong commitment to the values of personalisation among the profession – amid a frustration at the barriers to putting them into place. Moreover, the research – including from the National Personal Budgets Survey – indicates that it is substantially what social workers and care managers do, or don’t do, that makes the difference between whether personal budgets do or do not work for people.

Think Local Act Personal has published a report alongside the 20 case studies capturing key messages about what councils at the forefront of tackling personal budgets bureaucracy. The hope is that other authorities will learn from these and follow suit. The result should be that, by the time of next year’s Community Care personalisation survey, the proportion of social workers complaining about bureaucratic systems is much reduced. Let’s hope so.

Picture credit: Rex/Burger/Phanie

Mithran Samuel

About Mithran Samuel

Mithran Samuel is adults' editor at Community Care.