Advocacy charity Speaking Up has launched a board game to guide people with learning disabilities through the personal budgets maze, writes Amy Taylor
Choice is central to personal budgets but for many people with learning disabilities it can prove a confusing concept. Advocacy charity Speaking Up warned of this two years ago, when the government’s personalisation agenda was launched.
The answer could lie in the first 10 boxes of the My Life, My Budget board game which have just landed in the charity’s office. It is designed to help service users understand their rights, responsibilities and opportunities under personal budgets.
Mel Findlater, consultancy and training co-ordinator at Speaking Up, says the game fills a gap because many professionals struggle to explain personal budgets clearly to people with learning disabilities.
“It originally came out of people saying to us that the personal budget scheme skated over people with learning disabilities knowing what was happening and we tried to think of a really interactive approach to explain to people what goes on,” she says.
After conceiving the idea, Speaking Up took its plan to the Department of Health, which agreed to provide £80,000 to fund the game’s development. The first run of 250 games are to be distributed free to councils, learning disability partnership boards and voluntary sector bodies. Further boxes can be purchased from the charity for £50 each.
Findlater, a social work student and three volunteers with learning disabilities set about devising the game in more detail just over a year ago.
They worked with a manufacturer, Shannon Games, and the personalisation charity In Control and consulted disability groups in Essex and Cambridge. Findlater says the format went through several changes before reaching its final version. The volunteers made suggestions for the game, including introducing the concept of shopping, making it multi-coloured and cutting slots in the board to fit the activity and chore cards.
Kerry Pike, one of the volunteers, says explaining personal budgets through a game format makes them much more accessible.
“We made the game so that people can understand personal budgets,” she says. “If you just talk about it, it will be boring for them and they wouldn’t understand, so we made the board game so that they can have fun when they are playing and learning about it.”
Findlater acknowledges that the game will not inform people about all the details of personal budgets but she hopes it will enable players to realise that the money they have been allocated empowers them to choose to live the lives they want to.
“I hope it will mean that many people will understand what a personal budget is in a very basic way,” she says. “To me it’s about people knowing it’s about choice and spending money on what they want to do in life.”
Mike Farrelly, a specialist support worker with learning disabled people at Flintshire Council, Wales, which is piloting personal budgets, is keen to receive the final product. He says people need to be put at the centre of the support that they receive to ensure it reflects their dreams and aspirations.
“The best way to achieve that with people is not through forms or tick boxes, it’s through conversation,” he says. “Playing the game will act as a tool in having those conversations.”
➔ Speaking Up merged with Advocacy Partners on 1 April.
My Life, My Budget: How it works
First, players carry out a self-assessment tick-list of their care, support and entertainment needs to work out how much money they feel they should be allocated.
They are then given the money, in the form of paper £1 notes, and take it in turns to roll a dice to make their way round a board of brightly coloured footprints.
As they go, they draw up a plan for their lives, different squares entitling them to make choices on different activities. They also have to slot in compulsory tasks, such as going to the dentist. Players then work out how they will travel to each activity and think about the best method of transport.
Once their plan is completed, which is achieved by reaching the end of the board, it has to be agreed by a “council member”, a role taken by a fellow player. This person will consider issues such as whether the plan is safe and will prevent boredom, just as, in reality, a council employee would.
Players then work out how they will organise their allocated money, say with the support of their family, and discuss qualities they would like a prospective support worker to have.
They have then reached the final stage – “living their life”: their plan for how they will spend their money is complete.
➔ More about My Life, My Budget
This article is published in the 8 April 2010 edition of Community Care under the headline “Making a game of personalisation”