James Purnell: Ministers will not prescribe personal budget streams

Work and pensions secretary James Purnell has vowed the government will not prescribe additional funding streams for personal budgets to supplement adult social care resources.

Purnell made the comment after the government’s welfare reform green paper, launched this week, proposed giving disabled adults control over the combined budget the government spends on their support. This could encompass social care, housing and employment support, equipment and adaptations.

Through the Putting People First initiative, councils will be expected to roll out personal budgets, covering only adult social care resources, for all service users from 2008-11.

However, individual budgets, which were piloted in 13 areas from April 2006-December 2007, also encompassed five other funding streams:- Supporting People, Disabled Facilities Grant, Independent Living Funds, Access to Work and community equipment services. Meanwhile, the DH is also planning to pilot personal budgets covering NHS resources for people with long-term conditions.

Stark challenge

Purnell said evidence from the individual budget pilots showed councils and their partners faced a “stark” challenge in pooling funding from different streams which cut across government departments and public organisations. 

But, addressing a seminar organised by think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research, he said it would be up to local partners to decide which funds were added to personal budgets, instead of the government prescribing how money should be allocated “from the centre”.

Purnell said that a forthcoming evaluation of the pilots, expected in the autumn, showed there was a lack of “consistency” in the way funding had been allocated. He said: “It’s frustrating when people can see where the money is but can’t use it in the way they want to.”

Purnell said a “cultural shift” was needed to ensure the success of personal budgets, and warned against “too much worry” about the risk of budgets being used fraudulently, arguing it would “kill off the policy.”

Mixed evidence on personal assistants

The work and pensions secretary also said evidence from the individual budgets pilots showed that personal assistants directly employed by service users had “mixed” experiences. He said some felt “exploited” by service user employers while others felt “empowered” and that experiences differed according to whether staff were care workers or social workers.

Purnell added that it would be up to service users to decide whether personal assistants should be employed through fixed terms and conditions established by local authorities, or whether they should set their own terms and conditions. “This needs to be fleshed out,” he said.

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