Service User Voice: Are services really better

A close friend of mine hasn’t had a bath in the past 10 years. I haven’t asked him what alternative arrangements he has made all this time, but he looks very healthy, and doesn’t smell bad – I should know he is a close friend. He’s also a wheelchair user, but unlike me, he rents from a private landlord, which means that his property isn’t eligible for a grant to adapt his bathroom.

Simon Heng quote - p10 22 November issueAn ex- neighbour of mine, learning to cope with his acquired disability, had to move out of the family home, into a hostel for two years, whilst the district council and the local social services department dithered, firstly, over his eligibility for a grant to adapt his home, and secondly, over tenders for the work.

Bearing in mind these kinds of experiences, I looked at the CSCI report: What councils are reporting on their progress in delivering services to adults with social care needs (November 2007), to see if, in the wider picture, the move towards more personalised services had actually made things better for more people.

Broadly, most local authorities report that they are making progress towards offering the kind of services which should enhance people’s lives – single assessments, increased usage of direct payments, fewer delays in providing equipment, and 50,000 people per year waiting on average 30 weeks for ramps into their own homes, lifts to their bedrooms and bathrooms which they can use. Better than the 38 weeks’ average a few years ago.

Over the past five years, 10% more adults with physical disabilities, and an equal percentage of people with mental illness have been helped to live independently. Councils are paying more attention to potential abuse of vulnerable adults – a difficult thing to measure – even so, levels of staff trained to be aware of abuse now tops 70%, but this falls to only 31% for the private sector.

So is everything looking rosier for adult service users? Seven out of ten authorities admit to tightening their eligibility criteria. Targets for increasing Older People’s independence aren’t being met. Over 900 people with learning difficulties are still placed, inappropriately, in long-stay hospitals.

Disraeli talked about “lies, damned lies and statistics”, and we all should be suspicious about any bodies producing their own figures. So how about commissioning another set of statistics: do service users feel that their services are better than before?

Simon Heng is a wheelchair user and is involved in user-led organisations


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