Social workers split over personalisation impact

Social care experts were challenged by social workers over the impact of personalisation on the workforce at the recent Community Care Live. The discussion also exposed a divide among social workers themselves over the benefits of the policy. 

Under the Department of Health’s Putting People First programme, councils in England must roll-out personal budgets, through which users can purchase their own services, from 2008-11.

A panel of experts outlined how they believed personalisation would change and transform the social care workforce and social workers relationships with service users.

Jon Glasby, professor of health and social care director, Health Services Management Centre, University of Birmingham, outlined several dilemmas posed by personalisation such whether it is privatising services and overloading families and service users under the guise of empowerment. Also he looked at arguments whether it would undermine the profession but cited several social care managers who said it had put “the social back into social work”. This, he contrasted with the existing care management system, which could be very frustrating for social workers because they were just managing budgets. Direct care could help social workers develop relationships and provide continuity of care, freeing up time for social workers to do the job they were meant to do.

Mike Wardle, chief executive of the GSCC said that recent government statements had put social work at the top of the political agenda. Personalisation was about making every adult matters by allowing individuals to shape and control their own lives.

He said that the GSCC was looking at systems of registering personal assistants (PAs) including what type of regulation was needed such as brokerage services and PAs. It was also looking at what skills needed to be developed to build a compassionate and passionate workforce.

Simon Stevens, a service user and disability consultant, said that he had been using PAs since 1992 and the policy was not new. Rather than discuss the policy he welcomed the opportunity to debate the practicalities of personalisation.

Stevens said he had very high expectations and demanded the best. Personalisation was making the service user “King or Queen” and social workers had to accept they were now working in partnership with disabled people: “if you can’t then don’t be a social worker”, he challenged the audience.

He also addressed the fears of unions about losing control of services and/or the workforce. One-person employers using personalisation had to be more accountable than other employers and were often more vulnerable to bad employees than other larger organisations. He said there should be a consultation with the unions about the role of PAs.  

Andrea Rowe (pictured right), chief executive of Skills for Care, said that research into the PA workforce showed that most were either family members or were trained in another part of the sector and had already been checked by the Criminal Records Bureau.

The role of PA was also attracting younger people and Skills for Care was looking at recruiting direct from schools.

Rowe said that more information about the informal workforce was needed. Diplomas and NVQs were not necessarily the best route into becoming a PA and that new knowledge sets and specialist training may well be needed for the burgeoning PA workforce.

Social workers’ reaction

One approved social worker said that some people with mental health problems would not be able to cope with taking control of their care, to the possible detriment of their conditions. Stevens challenged this view, saying that social workers should stop managing service users’ lives.

Sceptical delegates raised problems about the lack of staff consultation about the “revolutionary policy” and some claimed that in practice service users were being told what services to have and what agencies to use. There were also fears about means-testing and how personalisation could be used to cut services or off-load responsibilities onto service users and their families.

Supporters of personalisation said they were able to build relationships with service users and see them thrive as they took greater control of their lives, and that the policy offered an opportunity for a return to “real social work”.

Further information

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