I have to say I was more than a little underwhelmed by Barnet Council’s proposals to go all ‘budget airline’ with the local government and an issue was made for them to charge for extras – probably more Ryanair style than easyJet style if you want to start nit-picking – not as snappy though for the headline writers. Probably goes to show how everyone follows press releases.

Most of it went over my head save for a couple of things – firstly the reporting that the council as one of their ‘policies’ was

recipients of adult social care in Barnet will choose to spend a limited budget on whether to have a cleaner or a respite carer or even a holiday to Eastbourne

Now maybe I’ve misunderstood (which is by no means impossible) but that is what ALL councils will be obliged to do before long when the individualised budgets and personalisation agenda takes off. There is nothing particularly ground-breaking about that – but well done, Barnet, as most of the press seem to have picked up on it.

The rest of the article talks of bin collection and planning permission but the Local Government Chronicle reports that they are also closing their Welfare Rights Unit.

According to a report due to be discussed at a cabinet meeting on 1 September, closing the unit will meet the council’s corporate objectives of “deploying the local authority’s resources as flexibly and efficiently as possible”.

The unit costs around £230,000 a year to run and consists of six staff who advise hundreds of children with disabilities and residents with mental health or community care needs each year on what benefits are available to them.

According to the report, an analysis last year suggested the unit generated £1.6m in benefits to local people’s income.

A risk assessment of the proposals conceded they risked leaving vulnerable residents to fall into poverty.

Nice way of saving, Barnet. I’m sure the constituent voters in what is one of the most affluent boroughs of London, are very appreciative.

Barnet, being a solidly Conservative borough, has always been keen on outsourcing and with this thought, there will be voluntary organisations who may be able to pick up the slack – my own experience of Welfare Rights Teams in my own council though, is that they have been extremely effective – particularly when we have referred people who are ultimately some of the most vulnerable, namely those who do need a home-visiting service.

Not being someone who needs planning permission desperately, this was the only proposal I could see and it doesn’t necessarily reek of any different kind of government as the headlines seem to indicate. Maybe I’m missing something really obvious but I see nothing related to budget airlines about differently tiered pricing – except it seems to have garnered a large number of headlines.

I worry though about the divisions being made between ‘those who need’ and ‘those who don’t need’ – and more the differences in support and services received based on postcodes once again. It makes somewhat worrying reading if there is to be more discretion at a local authority level about services provided by social care departments.

Time to see how it might work though, as a model, I have to say though, I’m rather glad of a bulkier local government model that at least provides some protection and support to some of the most vulnerable citizens.

Not everyone wants to use budget airlines all the time.

image preshaa at flickr

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4 thoughts on “easyBarnet

  1. Sounds awful about the welfare rights unit. Seems fairly typical of the cynical budget cuts going on now. Part of the reasoning is that some of the demand will be picked up by the vol. sector. That’s certainly happened in my area since Social Services pulled funding out of our Welfare Rights Unit a few years back. They only work with council tenants now as apparently it is in the interests of housing to fund this as when people hit financial trouble they stop paying their rent to the council. Anyway, as you’d expect vol. sector provision is typically patchy; funding comes and goes, people go off sick, positions become vacant, some organisations are more experienced at particular kinds of claims, appeals, benefits etc.

    As for the budget airline tag. I think this comes down to how IBs will play out in the long term. The cynic inside me says that whilst the state will provide a minimum entitlement people will be increasingly expected to ‘top-up’. Certainly, in my area again, the new financial assessment system means that anyone with over 22-23k in savings or with a weekly income in excess of their assessed care needs is regarded as ‘self-funding’ – though my managers are at pains to point out this does not affect their entitlement to assessment but, would you go through with a social services assessment if there was nothing at the end but advice, and if you did would you stay in the system., or would you go away, try to manage the best you can and then return a year later with even more needs?

    Brave new world we work in!

  2. I was quite surprised at the closure of welfare rights but clearly it is not as unusual as I had thought, working in a cosy local authority that hasn’t even considered that.
    As for the IBs, I am still not clear how they are going to be working in our authority (I seem to have avoided the training but I think I’m going on a two-day course next week or the week after) – I do recognise the dropping like a lead balloon of those who are self-funding. In fact, I’ve got a post forming in my head about it.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  3. No problem. Thanks for an interesting post. I think you are right that very little will change at the moment in terms of our current models.

    My Authourity is a few years into the whole IBs thing which is now going under the label of ‘putting people first’. It’s certainly an interesting area and I’ll be very interested to see where the policy goes once its fully rolled out. We’ve had a lot of false starts which have been down various aspects of the fine detail, in particular problems with the resource allocation system assessment model.

    I’ve spoken to people in other authourities like Warwick who are one of the most advanced in terms of IB’s – I think Kent and West-Sussex are also quite far ahead. The consensus seems to be that the success of IBs is down to the management of the local care market something which takes time to develop. My reading is that the idea of IBs is to stimulate service provision by the vol. sector, not-for-profit sector and even private sector. Whether this then means, as is the case of something like Welfare Rights, that the state will then scale back it’s services accordingly is very much a matter of debate!

  4. Maybe I’m too reactionary.. but experiences of care management models and then direct payments show that however well-intentions the models of care are – and without doubt, the individualised budgets are ethically very sound – in practice it seems to come down to cost-cutting and even reducing choices. That’s my fear.

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