Are Beans more valuable than People? – Or A Day at Community Care Live 2011


Yesterday I went to the C0mmunity Care Live conference. It is an annual event put on by Community Care Magazine and runs across two days. Being one of the very few free events (and excellent – free isnt the ONLY reason I go but it does help!),  I’ve always made an effort to attend on one or other of the days and try and catch up on the workshop and debate programme that is put together about a very wide range of subjects relating to social care in the UK.

I went to a few workshops and my attempts at ‘live tweeting’ were scuppered initially when a colleague from work came to sit next to me in the first session.

It was a packed session run by the Mental Health Foundation about their Dementia Choices project and the title of the session was ‘Can personalisation and direct payment support work for people with dementia?’. There was an initial presentation about the research evidence and the project that the Mental Health Foundation had put together to pilot direct payments among adults with dementia  and then there was a talk from the daughter of a service user whose direct payments had changed her life.

I was a bit disappointed though. Not with the presentation and talks – they were very good and it was obviously something that was very deeply felt by those who have direct payments working for them but, in a sense, I felt that the speaker who first received direct payments for her mother in 2003 (I think – that’s from memory but it was a good few years ago) could have made the same speech about their use about 2 or 3 years ago before the move of the more widespread personalisation agenda. Her mother had been receiving direct payments for 8 years. What was ‘different’ then with this new push towards everyone receiving a direct payment?  I refer to my previous points about us knowing that direct payments can work incredibly well if there is an involved family to provide support for the person who may lack capacity but for the isolated older person who lacks capacity there is no ‘magic wand’ to make the systems that are over-complicated seem suddenly more empowering if there is no-one to take on the support planning role.

I’ve said this before and will again that I feel currently there is a two-tier service that we are providing where those with involved families and carers may receive the more individualised support plans simply because the additional time burdens of arranging support is placed on informal carers whereas those who do not have those networks receive exactly the same services as they always do – we just call it ‘managed personal budgets’.

The workshop instilled in me a kind of despair that this group of people that I work with a lot has again been sidelined in favour of the ‘easier’ groups. Where is the research with people who have greater cognitive impairments and who don’t have family members or carers who can or who are able to manage their support plans for them? Ah, a role for the voluntary sector perhaps? The problem is that the voluntary sector is also shrinking and someone needs to pay them so that a role for ‘support planning’ is likely to mean a lower personal budget.

Still, I know I should try and be more cheerful about it. It just seems that so much of the research time spent about personal budgets has been telling us things that we already knew about research that had taken place around marginalised groups regarding direct payments.

The second session I went to was about the need for media and social workers to work more closely together. Social Workers should not be afraid of the media and the media (and by that, the panel were referring particularly to main stream media – because that’s where the battles are to be won!) – should have a chance to engage more with social workers. The usual subjects of local authorities barring their employees from speaking to the press came up and hopefully the College of Social Work will be addressing this on a broader scale.

There are a lot of inaccuracies reported and it would be good to see more social workers able to contribute to debates about the work which we do to quell some of the misunderstandings.

I then went to session on Making Personalisation Work in an era of cuts. I almost didn’t go because I thought (wrongly, as it happened) that it would irritate me and that it would be people lecturing to us again how it is the intransigence of social workers which is holding up the forward march of social care.

It wasn’t that at all and for once, it really did sound like people were actually listening to what I wanted to say about the personalisation agenda and my fears for it. There is nothing at all I would like to do more than work in a person centred way regarding care and support planning. This is something I hope that I have always been doing since I qualified though. If it can be improved, it must be and I am more than willing to change every way I have of working in order to improve it but, and this was noted by the speakers, Peter Beresford and Miranda Wixon (of Think Local Act Personal) in some ways the government’s agenda of cuts has overtaken the meaning behind the ‘personalisation’ agenda.

Unfortunately, there has been a drive to try and deliver more for less and it is not only unrealistic, it can involve pushing people into making choices that they don’t necessarily want.

Beresford made the point that the government agenda is about pushing everyone onto direct payments as the ‘preferred method’ of delivering personal budgets but, he said, crucially – ‘preferred by whom’. Well, that would be the government.

There are more ways of delivering person centred planning and person centred support than providing the cash for someone to buy their own services and while it can work incredibly well for some people, there is the very real and often ignored or side-lined issue that it is not everyone’s choice to have that choice.

The excellent concept of personalisation and putting the primary role of designing support into the hands of the user of that support and the services is being lost to the marketisation agenda.

There was a speaker on the floor, in the question time who explained that the rate of pay for carers was lower than the rate of pay for employees in Tescos – asking, ‘Do we really value cans of beans over human life?’. It makes you ponder for a while – but there are vast issues about the undervaluing of care and support staff in our culture – not just through poor pay but through poor status. Surely the ‘heroes’ of our society should be the home carers and the support workers as much if not more than the professionals whom we traditionally hold in high esteem such as doctors – who, while performing fundamental roles are at least well-compensated for it.

Another speaker spoke about an issue that I am all too aware of where choice is actually reduced for service users as in-house local authority provided services are frozen out of the provider choice that has been given to users.

Can personalisation work then, in an era of cuts? We don’t have any choice. It will because the concept is a good one although the danger is that it has been completed hijacked by a government’s cost-cutting enterprise which will end up making social care delivery so restricted that it will barely exist in all but the most extreme situations.

It is not possible to detach ‘personalisation’ from ‘the era of cuts’ as local authorities have to divest themselves of many of their functions. I see a lot of third sector organisations and possibly private sector organisations moving into the support planning and assessment verifying and supporting roles. The money (when it comes) may come from the local authorities but they will not necessarily be involved in many of the intermediate processes. It may well be that some aspects of the work are far better done in other sectors. It will become far more usual for people to pay for their own care as the eligibility criteria rise – those who can afford it anyway – those who can’t afford it may well be waiting until they meet the critical bands of need before they receive support.

There will be a two-tier system of social care support. Those who can afford to meet their own ‘moderate/substantial’ care needs according to the Fair Access to Care Services and then shift to maybe receive some support from the local authorities as their needs increase – and those who can’t afford to meet their own moderate and/or substantial needs who will deteriorate more quickly and reach the ‘critical’ band which will qualify them for support quicker at the cost of their health and independence.

I am trying to think of a positive to end on. It was good to hear some of the concerns about the pushing out of the personalisation agenda are being heard. It was good to see groups of social workers who want to be engaged in the process of change.  I got a good supply of pens and although I wasn’t able to nab a mug, I did get a frisbee!

I almost forgot too, that the announcement of the memorandum of understanding between BASW and the College of Social Work – great news. Long overdue in my view!

Personally, I enjoyed being able to catch up with some people I’ve known a long time, others I’ve come across before and some I’d only ever met in a ‘virtual’ capacity – thanks to Shirley Ayres, the team at RiPfA and of course, the Community Care team as well as others who will remain nameless!

2 thoughts on “Are Beans more valuable than People? – Or A Day at Community Care Live 2011

  1. in these uncertain times the last thing disabled people need is to have their benefits cut, if you don’t have critical care needs ie not at death’s door DLA helps to make your life more bearable, we’re heading for a reprise on the workhouse

  2. I think the personalisation agenda has always contained problematic conflicts at its heart which are not all down to the recent cuts.

    The first is that it has always been seen and sold as the cheaper option. The original 1996 direct payment legislation only got introduced – after a previous one had been voted down – after research emerged that it was cheaper than conventional services. A lot early enthusiasts were wrong to sell it as the cheaper option. a lot of marginalised, and less able, people will actually need more support.

    I read a really interesting article – written in the 90s – the other day about the “responsible consumer”. It basically outlines simple changes in our economy that has meant we have had to learn more skills and acquire a higher ability as a consumer. This is because we have become “co creators” of our products at a basic level. This can help reduce the basic cost of a product. We use self service cash machines, self service checkouts, build our own flat pack furniture etc to increase efficency. All this takes a certain amount of ability, such as being able to read, being technically savvy etc, which will obviously exclude the illiterate, maybe the elderly.

    The trouble I have is that this responsible consumer chimes with a lot of the personalisation agenda. self-assessment, self- directed etc. It can simply shift stress and responsibility onto the most vulnerable in society because it basically aims to reduce money.

    the point is that self-directed support is good when someone has the ability and support; and it will probably be cheaper. They can take the responsibility. But the problem is if someone doesnt have the ability, or at least the right support, then it is not real personalisation you are giving. And if they have no family to give them this support it is expensive to provide it.

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