Social workers need training in delivering personalisation amid cuts

Practitioners report struggling with rushed assessments, fast-changing council policies and funding panels that overturn their decisions, finds research by In Control.

Social workers need training in making personalisation work at a time of cuts as they struggle with rushed assessments, fast-changing council policies and funding panels that overturn their decisions.


Social workers’ struggles with personalisation

“It is extremely difficult and bureaucratic to get funding decisions. Councils make any excuse not to authorise funding and social needs are not being met due to budget constraints.”

“Social work training has focused on the ideology and not on the practicalities of setting up a package.”

“I feel assessments are rushed through and service users often don’t have enough time to think about the options available to them.”

“Often staff are told at the last minute that changes are being made and have to implement those changes without having the time to familiarise themselves with the changes; this leads to poor practice.”

“I work with people who have not had any appraisals for years. Recruit managers who have the necessary skills to professionally manage their teams. Develop those who don’t.”

Source: In Control, Supporting the North West on personal budgets


That was a key message from research by In Control – the charity that pioneered self-directed support in the UK – into the implementation of personal budgets by councils in the North West.

A survey of 145 council staff from the region – the great majority of whom were in frontline roles – found 93% wanted more training in implementing personal budgets, with 51% wanting more group learning and 33% more or better supervision.

Social workers ‘lack confidence’

The research, by social worker and consultant Andrew Tyson, found practitioners supported personalisation’s underlying values but were “much less confident about what constitutes good practice in the current climate of reduced budgets”.

Forty two per cent of staff said people’s personal budgets were of insufficient value while 50% said staff did not have enough time to do their jobs, including because of pressure to “move people quickly through the system”. Council moves to design more efficient care management systems meant staff spent a lot of time “feeding those systems”, rather than working with service users to find solutions to their needs, said the report.

Funding panels undermine good practice

Good frontline practice was also undermined by funding panels or middle managers who “now regularly overturn [practitioners’] decisions, largely on financial grounds”. Social workers also struggled with the rapidly changing nature of council policies and spending priorities at a time of cuts.

However, despite the clear need for more training, the report voiced concerns from a steering group of council leaders that cuts had reduced training, largely, to the “statutory minimum”, reducing access to training in person-centred values for new and existing staff.

“There is no space provided for staff to consider and plan the important issue of how to work in ways that square a personalised approach with restricted budgets,” the report said.

Role of the social worker

A separate survey of council heads for the report identified “genuine anxieties” among social workers about their future due to cuts and the perception that personal budgets were “an opportunity to dispense with more expensive staff”.

The report urged councils to review the role of social workers under personalisation to make sure they were making best use of their skills by focusing on more complex cases and working effectively to help service users take control of their support.

This could involve enabling service users to plan their support, with the assistance of family or user-led organisations, rather than social workers themselves. This is line with recommendations from other recent studies by social care consultancies Groundswell, the Centre for Welfare Reform and Paradigm.


Recommendations in the In Control report included for councils to:

  • Evaluate the role of care managers and social workers to ensure they are making best use of their skills and experiencem focusing on complex cases and are working effectively with these cases,
  • Provide a programme of clear communications with staff (face-to-face, written, and electronic) which emphasises the overarching importance of sticking to the values of personalisation at a time of cuts;
  • Review induction, training and support arrangements for professional staff to ensure that these reflect and reinforce council support for the values of personalisation;
  • Review service users’ views on the effectiveness of the workforce and take action on the results.

Personalisation for continuing care clients

Community Care’s 2012 personalisation survey

The latest on what social workers think of personalisation and practice tips on issues such as assessment and support planning can be found in our special report on the 2012 Community Care personalisation survey, sponsored by Unison and The College of Social Work.

Mithran Samuel is Community Care’s adults’ editor.

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