Personal budget rollout could increase pressure on councils

Councils could face pressure on resources by having to commission traditional services alongside innovative ones as they roll out personal budgets, research by think-tank Demos shows.

A survey of 428 social care service users in six areas found that, although 42% of personal budget holders had not changed a thing in their care package, 32% had changed something and 20% had changed many things.

Service users without personal budgets were also asked what they would change if they had a care package: 55% said they would change nothing, 27% something and 11% many things.

The findings from the six areas – Cheshire East, Hull, East Midlands, Lancashire and the London boroughs of Havering and Barking and Dagenham – suggest councils will have to think about offering traditional services such as day centres alongside new ones, at least in the short-term.

They indicate that the current crop of older social care users are unlikely to want to change much in their care package, though this is likely to alter as the baby boomer generation retires.

The results – an update of an earlier report on four areas from October last year – show that participation in education and training, use of leisure services and public transport increased among holders of self-directed support packages.

There was a slight fall in the use of day centres, but none in the use of residential care, though the employment of personal assistants increased substantially.

The spending priorities of personal budget holders within each client group differed widely, according to the study, which was conducted with the Centre for Disability Research at Lancaster University.

Older people generally preferred to spend their budget on a personal assistant and were more likely to spend budgets on mainstream services than working-age adults, with less spent on education, leisure and training.

Demos researcher Claudia Wood said: “There is some indication that the longer people have a personal budget, the more radical they will become in considering ways of spending it.”

Her research concluded that commissioners and providers needed to offer a more diverse and flexible range of services, deal with a more fragemented client base and ensure universal services, such as education and leisure, were accessible to care users.

The latest results, collected in December and January, disclosed widespread ignorance among social care service users about personal budgets, despite their centrality to social care policy in England.

The sample included 25 personal budget holders and 72 direct payment users. A further 170 are due to have a personal budget within a year.

The Department of Health wants 30% of service users to be on personal budgets by 2011.

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