New Round of Upheaval

    Anyone hoping that social care would be spending a few quiet months
    on the back burner in the run-up to a general election should
    prepare themselves for disappointment. An innocuous-looking new
    document from a quintet of government departments appears to
    promise plenty more upheaval and challenge in the foreseeable
    future.

    Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People commits a future
    Labour government to revamping the way services are provided to
    disabled people. It focuses on employment problems, promoting
    independent living and helping families with disabled children.
    Worthy, to be sure, but not exactly earth-shattering. But in the
    depths of the paper lies a proposal that could change the way
    social care is provided to millions of people.

    This idea is personalised budgets. The paper proposes that almost
    every eligible disabled person – and the definition used is about
    the broadest imaginable, potentially encompassing 11 million adults
    in the UK – should control their own individual budget. In other
    words, direct payments on a grand scale.

    Crucially, these individualised budgets would not just pay for
    social care support and services. They will encompass all budgets
    that pay for different types of support needs.

    The government seems committed to making this plan a reality and
    there is some good sense underlying it. But, true to form, the
    document is long on rhetoric and short on detail. It talks in
    glowing terms about direct payments schemes without acknowledging
    the significant problems many of them still face. It proposes
    enormous change, yet offers no extra cash, and fails to mention the
    pile of administrative and budgetary spaghetti someone will need to
    unravel.

    Finally, the document exhibits masterful understatement when it
    says the new system “would require a cultural shift” in the work of
    social care professionals. Exactly where they fit into the new
    order is unclear. One suggestion is that they will be “brokers”,
    offering support and assistance to people as they decide how to use
    their budget. Others might hold the purse strings as care managers,
    or commission services for budget-holders to pick from. Either way,
    it is one more respect in which the future for social care, and for
    local authorities, looks a little different from here on in.

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