Writing a social work essay on personal budgets

Writing a social work essay on personal budgets by Professor Jill Manthorpe, director of the Social...

by Professor Jill Manthorpe, director of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London.


If you are lucky the essay question might provide a definition of what is meant by a personal budget. This is because you could easily reach your word limit by explaining all the various and changing definitions of a personal budget. If not, you will need to explain your definition – and think about whether you are writing about direct payments. There is a strong temptation to do this, as this is where most of the literature is to be found.

The person marking your essay will likely be familiar with all the overviews, and overviews of overviews, of direct payments. They will also be able to distinguish between material you cite as “evidence” when it is more opinion and commentary than scientific evidence.

They will expect you to be able to distinguish between encouragement and evidence-based material. Likewise, they will expect you to be able to scrutinise the evidence: which users were involved in various trials or pilots (and which were not)?; who responded to the research – user or proxy?; and who was included or excluded?

You will no doubt find it easier to provide an intellectual chronology of the history of personal budgets or direct payments. You may be able to draw upon theories about choice and consumerism, or individualisation, or change management. These can enrich your work. Similarly you may wish to cross-reference your work with other themes in practice, such as adult safeguarding, risk and legal frameworks.

If your essay is particularly practice focused, there may be benefits in looking at agency policy and procedures. This may give you an insight into the type of publicity and information available to service users and carers.

Finally, some good sources of material are emerging in the “grey literature” – reports by charities and voluntary groups about the implications for particular users and carers. This is sometimes available through SCIE and Community Care, but it can also be worthwhile searching yourself if you are interested in a particular “user” perspective.

Do you have questions about essays? Get advice from fellow students on CareSpace

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