Call to trust social workers’ judgement over personal budgets

Scotland has been urged not to follow the same 'bureaucratic' path as England in designing resource allocation systems for personal budgets, and to place greater trust in professional judgement.

Resource allocation systems should be affordable while meeting need, says the report

Scottish policymakers have been urged to trust social workers’ professional judgement in designing resource allocation systems (RAS) for personal budgets and not follow the same ‘bureaucratic’ path as England.

The call came in a report from the Centre for Welfare Reform and In Control Scotland designed to influence resource allocation in Scotland as it rolls out personal budgets under the 10-year self-directed support strategy, launched in 2010.

The report, A Fair Budget, said a successful RAS needed to:

  • give people an indicative personal budget as soon as possible after assessment so they could start planning their support;
  • promote creative use of resources;
  • ensure personal budgets were sufficient to meet needs, allocated equitably between people but sustainable for the public purse;
  • be transparent and open to public scrutiny and debate;
  • minimise bureaucracy and place a “reasonable level of trust in the judgements of citizens and professionals”.

However, in England, the typical RAS had become very bureaucratic, using multiple criteria of need, multiple judgements of users’ need, from professionals, users themselves and others, and complex weighting systems that were “often opaque to professionals and service users”. It said there was no evidence that this approach had led to fair and sustainable allocations.

It said the approach in England had been based on a series of “damaging assumptions”, including that service users and frontline professionals could not be trusted to make reasonable judgements of need, so these needed to be double-checked by managers and panels.

The report also accused councils of wasting money on overly complex computerised resource allocation systems in response to the previous government’s Putting People First programme to roll out personal budgets, launched in 2008 with £520m in funding for local authorities.

“Instead of creating a system to liberate individual citizens and frontline practitioners, England has witnessed systems that are controlled by small groups of people only accountable to the senior management of the local authority,” it said.

It said Scotland needed to avoid the mistakes made in England and create a system that enabled social workers and service users to make reasonable judgements of need and allocation without undue bureaucracy or delay, by following its proposed principles for a successful RAS. Professionals and service users should be empowered to make decisions together on how indicative budgets could be varied.

“It is not helpful or productive if too many decisions are referred to panels or if professional judgements or agreements with citizens are undermined – this is very inefficient and undermines morale at every level,” the report added.

Mithran Samuel is Community Care’s adults’ editor.

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