Resistance to change in social care blocking independent living for disabled people, Office for Disability Issues study finds

Resistance to change in the social care sector is blocking the implementation of independent living for disabled people, a government study has found.

Service users, providers and policymakers believe services are currently shaped by a “vested interest” in keeping disabled people “passive and dependent,” according to the findings published today by the Office for Disability Issues.

The study by consultancy SQW found the sector was “reluctant to let go” of services for disabled people because they were viewed as a “bread and butter” services employing “vast” numbers of people.

“By relinquishing commissioning responsibility service providers are, in effect, sacrificing their power and control, a departure that some may find difficult to accept,” it said.

This was despite emerging evidence to show that independent living services were more cost-effective than conventional support and improved equality, confidence, mental health and social and employment opportunities for service users.

In one case cited in the study, disabled parents were able to have their child fostered and then keep the child with them at a cost of £106,614, compared to conventional fostering and adoption costs of £113,582.

In another case, it cost £36,000 to provide post-16 education for a boy with learning difficulties in a local mainstream college, saving £23,733 on his previous out-of-authority residential placement.

While implementing independent living involved “considerable” costs to finance workforce development and administration, the study found this was a “one-off” investment balanced by long-term savings. It cited an independent living service in Dorset that was predicted to make savings worth double the initial investment.

Stakeholders interviewed for the study also suggested that 20 to 30% of social services expenditure was “wastage” because it went on “inflexible” block contracts and “inflated” agency fees. They also suggested some service users were paid “over and above” their care requirements because of inefficiencies in the assessment system.

John Dixon, vice-president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, who sits on the ODI’s expert panel on independent living, said the current system of traditional support was “short-sighted” and called for a culture change in services.

He acknowledged that the current financial crisis in adult social care was making providers “very cautious” about change, but said there was still “very little evidence” to show that implementing independent living would lead to an escalation in demand.

The study forms part of the Office for Disability Issue’s 12-month review of independent living.

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