Councils urged to replace specialist services with a universal approach

 Local government must move away from providing specialist care services and return to its universalist roots, according to a leading social services figure.

John Dixon, co-chair of the Association of Directors of Social Services disabilities committee, said councils should concentrate on providing the infrastructure that people needed to live independent lives, such as housing, public health and transport.

He told a Community Care conference on commissioning and procurement that authorities should reject the “take-away” culture that resulted in people being taken out of mainstream services nd offered segregated specialist provision.

While intensive social care packages would still be needed, it was “unsustainable” to focus increasing resources on ever fewer people while neglecting universal services, he said.

“For most people there are some key things that help us to live our lives – to have a roof, to be able to get about, to spend our days productively,” Dixon said. “We need, as local authorities, to be working to support that infrastructure in a way that we have not been doing for many years.

“People are not professional users of services, they want to live independent lives where they are getting the support they need. But they don’t live in order to consume services. Sometimes we behave as if they do.”

He also said that adult services departments would increasingly commission, rather than provide, services and would need to develop more locality-based provision.

Adult services must also develop strong links with children’s services departments and it would be “crazy” if the two did not share buildings such as extended schools to provide local services, he added.

Dixon said the Department of Health must be realistic about the cost of bringing in individual budgets but said it was a “nonsense” that these would not be implemented until 2012.

Dan Brandenburger, director of the DH’s care service efficiency delivery programme, told the conference that providers would need to start thinking about how they marketed their services to users and their advocates in preparation for individual budgets.

But he warned: “There’s a potential to get into some real difficulties with such things as mis-selling [of services].” He suggested more regulation on the issue could be inevitable.

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