Human Rights, Home Care, Personal Budgets and Cost Saving

I read on the BBC website among others that there is a report suggesting that care provided in the home by local authorities to older adults may be overlooking human rights issues.

Old man exmouth market

Daniel2005@flickr

An inquiry into this  was initiated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in November 2010 and will report in December 2011 but some interim findings have already been published.

I think the context in which the inquiry is taking place is crucial in times that Cameron trying to pretend that he invented the personalisation agenda and rebrand it as a version of ‘Big Society’.

The scope then of the Inquiry as to determine where the responsibility of the ‘public authority’ under the Human Rights Act actually lies and I’m going to quote directly from the EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission) as I think this is a crucially important point in the progress of personal budgets and home care provision (n.b. the underlining is my own).

The nature of social care is changing rapidly with a greater emphasis on personalised services and choice.  The majority of social care services are already delivered by private sector agencies, either via contract with local authorities or directly with individuals through a mix of public and private funding.

This complex web of transactions is combined with a narrow judicial interpretation of the meaning of ‘public authority’ under the Human Rights Act. This combination has created a confused picture concerning the duties and obligations of the various groups involved in respecting, protecting and promoting human rights.

Further, an increasing number of care transactions are likely to take place at the margins of, or even outside of, regulated care. There is the possibility that these transactions are beyond the present human rights obligations of the State.

We are also seeing the emergence of new on-line care marketing and brokerage services aimed at people purchasing social care with either ‘individual budgets’ or private funds. These marketing and brokering services are currently completely outside of the regulatory system with no means of monitoring the quality of the advice and services they offer. The Government wants to accelerate the pace of reform even further. While personalised care and support has many potential benefits, this is uncharted territory. There are concerns that human rights protection (and other issues) could fall between the gaps.

I’m going to come back, I’m afraid, to my perennial bugbear of people who lack capacity to make choices regarding care provisions and care delivery and wonder again how this group of people without family members, friends or advocates will be able to secure their own well-being in a world where responsibility of the state and the public authority is being discharged to private individuals. Will it become the responsibility of an advocacy service to determine that the support package and the provider of the support package are of a good quality? Or the carer/family member? Hardly the same as a protection under the Human Rights Act.

Food for thought and while I am extremely happy with the forward march of personal budgets and direct payments to those who are able and happy to manage their own budgets, the way that local authority managed budgets provide ‘more of the same’ regarding cheaply bought, block contracted social care remains floating fairly close to the edge regarding what is acceptable and what isn’t.

My fear is that the roll-out of personal budgets has not led to choice for all. It is a false choice and a false impression of the so-called ‘success’ of the roll-out. It has led to great benefits and more choice for some, yes, but I worry that this is actually at the expense of those without the louder voices to shout who have, again, been pushed to the bottom of the pile when quality services are being distributed.

So back to the reports findings so far.

Back to the BBC report

The Commission describes cases of people being left in bed for 17 hours, or more, between care visits and a failure to wash people regularly.

It received reports of people being left in filthy nightwear and bedding after a homecare visit, or without a wash or hair wash for several weeks.

Visits are sometimes so brief, the report says, that people have to choose between having a cooked meal or a wash.

The short visits also mean that staff have to rush tasks like washing and dressing, which frustrates elderly people and care staff

That doesn’t even bat an eyelid with me. This is what I have dealt with for the years I have been working in adult social care. Complaints and apologies about the time we can allocate for specific tasks due to budgets. Apologies on behalf of private agencies who have block contracts that cannot assure any kind of continuity of care.  That’s not even mentioning the  missed visits, the non-payment to staff of travel costs so they are cutting short visits in order to make it to the next ones. This is the reality of social care for older adults in the UK. Not the ‘season tickets to football matches’, not the ‘let me choose nice Mrs Walters’ daughter who I know from church to be my home carer’ kind of idyll that we are presented in the personalisation literature.

The reality for the people I work with and for is increasingly rushed visits and yes, choosing between a cooked meal (but only if it is a microwave meal because there is never ever time to cook a meal more complicated than tinned soup or beans on toast from ‘scratch’) and a shower.

The way to solve this problem and promote dignity is to increase and not reduce budgets for social care in the home. But budgets are being cut and cut hard.

Local authorities use block contacts with private care agencies to save money. The private care agencies generally pay staff at minimum wage. There are some fantastic carers and some fantastic agencies but they are penalised if they don’t offer their services at the very very lowest cost.

As for personal budgets? It is a wonderful reality for some but for most of the people I work with and for, it is a pipe-dream for people with a different kind of disability and with different kinds of support needs from the ones which are mostly promoted in our training programmes and in our policy documents.

If the government truly and genuinely means what it says about increasing and drawing out the personalisation agenda and increasing personal budgets delivered by direct payments there have to be ways clear and research undertaken to help us to create protective and interactive systems for people who are not at the forefront of the march because they don’t realise how much they are being penalised for not having a family member who is able to help with choosing and designing a care package and because they are not able to do this for themselves.

There has to be money spent on developing ways to allow those who at the moment are most at risk of vulnerability to be protected and cared for.

There are so many problems with a society that treats older adults or, in fact, anyone in the way that older people who are in need of care are treated currently. No-one wants to address it because no-one wants to pay. And it will cost.

No-one wants to lose their homes. No-one wants to lose their savings. No-one wants to pay higher taxes. No-one wants to lose weekly bin collections. No-one wants to pay insurance premiums.

The people who hold the reins of power will never be subjected to the humiliations which become a part of daily life for older adults who have need of support that is provided because they’ll be able to buy in their own ‘help’ privately.

Older people in need of assistance are less noisy than younger adults and less emotive than children in poverty and need. Ultimately we shouldn’t ration compassion and there’s no need for a choice to need to be made between one group or another

In the roll out of direct payments and then personalisation and personal budgets, it is the more able younger adults who have led the march and those who have been setting the policy and agenda seem to have completely forgotten the group of older people who don’t have involved family members and who  might not have the capacity to take decisions about care needs for themselves in the rush towards pushing the responsibility for support planning and choice of care routines. They  have forgotten amid the wonderful stories of attending football matches instead of day centres that some peoples’ reality is more about choosing a microwave meal or a shower.

Until those issues are addressed and the protection of the most potentially vulnerable groups of people is managed, the new system will not be equitable and it will not be fair. But perhaps that suits this government that wants shift responsibility from the state to the individual – which is fine to an extent but there are some people who really need that protection.

I look forward to the final report of the EHRC in December.

Safeguarding Adults Awareness Week

I learnt from my Twitter stream (thanks to Lindsay_Pike) that as well as being Carers’ Week, this week is also ‘Safeguarding Adults Awareness Week’.  I had never come across this as a ‘week’ before so used my carefully honed research skills to type ‘Safeguarding Adults Awareness Week’ into Google to see what it might be about.

There seem to be some local events arranged in Windsor, Kent and a nice sand sculpture in Cornwall as well as other places, it had certainly completely passed me by.

While the very scientific poll undertaken in Rotherham on the site of the councillor who was promoting it says that

76 % of the people surveyed were aware of safeguarding. A similar survey two weeks ago showed 54% recognition. The campaign of posters on the back of buses had been particularly successful.

I wonder if this ‘week’ though is truly ‘national’ and how important awareness is to identification and work to fight against abuse of adults who might be at risk of abuse.

There is a vast chasm between awareness of abuse towards adults and children – for me the division is arbitrary at best. Abuse of a person with knowledge/power/influence towards someone who lacks the ability – cognitive/physical or emotional to guard against it should be tackled regardless of the age of the so-called ‘victim’.

Why should society deal differently with the perpetrator according to the age of the person who is abused if the power differential is equivalent?

This is why I find the divisions and differences between the way that safeguarding is managed in childrens and adults services so different.

There are a lot of assumptions made though in the world of safeguarding. One is that anyone ‘old’ or anyone ‘disabled’ is automatically a s0-called ‘vulnerable’ adult. That isn’t necessarily the case.

But when someone who is at risk of being abused is – the responses from all parties can be patchy.

Perhaps that is why there is a differential in the way that safeguarding is investigated – the determination of being at risk is more straightforward with children because there are clear age boundaries to guide when an action is abuse and when it isn’t.

With adults, it is a value judgement about capacity and power relationships and that loaded word that I can’t quite find a perfect replacement for – vulnerability.

What makes one adult more vulnerable to abuse than another and is there a continuum of vulnerability that can cloud the way investigations are dealt with? In some situations it is brutally clear – Winterbourne View, for example, but when an historically abusive relationship between a husband who is physically violent towards his wife progresses as she develops dementia – at what point does it become an issue for social services to step in?

Between two ‘capacitious’ adults where there are no children involved, this would not be a situation for social services. With a progressive dementia or other vulnerability, it does.

For me, this is a very live issue as I work with a few people who have historically been in abusive relationships and when we intervene and when we are able to intervene becomes a very key judgement in a safeguarding investigation.

The key issues of human autonomy and human rights come into play in so many of the judgements we make regarding decisions of when and how to investigate safeguarding issues and what is and is not a safeguarding issue.

For me, I find I relate much more to the philosophical tenets of rights, responsibilities and ethics as I try and fit together the marginal decisions and the importance that an assessment of capacity can have on the life of another. The ability to reflect on the day to day decisions that might otherwise be taken speedily become more evident and more clear.

I can’t escape of the heavy moral responsibility that I feel in my day to day work. Every decision I make about prioritising, about capacity and in much clearer terms about hospital admissions weigh increasingly with the thought of implication, choice, rights and outcomes.

A thoughtless and unexamined practitioner is a dangerous practitioner.

Sometimes we can choose to overcomplicate and overanalyse but without consideration we can forget the power that we have.

So this week of Safeguarding has more or less passed me by but it is something that I’ll ponder on for much more than a week. I hope that next years’ week, if it exists, has some more thought and coherence behind it (and that it doesn’t coincide with Carers’ Week!).

The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing

To continue my theme (at least initially) for carers’ week, I wondered a while on the purpose of these weeks and days and months we have devoted to various issues.  They are about celebration, gratitude and recognition for the most part. Celebrating Mothers Day, for example,  doesn’t make us less grateful or thankful for our respective mothers on the other 364 days of the year so what is it about having a special day or week that is necessary.

I’m not a cynic. It is a good focus for events and allows particular issues that can be forgotten to be drawn out into the news agenda for a discreet period of time (a week is good – it can focus the attention). Campaigns can be built around days or weeks or months and themes can be wound up in the consciousness of the ethereal ‘general public’ whose attention can be fickle and fast-moving.

So it is that Carers Week is upon us but for it to be truly meaningful over the longer term there has to be a more systemic change in the process of social care and the way it is done in this country.

I engaged in a very brief ‘Twitter chat’ yesterday with a carer, Casdok, who writes a blog here. She mentioned that since her child had moved from childrens’ services to adult services she had noticed that she was listened to less and (I’m extrapolating a little here because it was in very short messages!) the service received was less good.

A brief exchange mentioned the loss of the relationships with particular social workers – you know, when the social worker used to pop round for a cup of tea – made me wonder what we have lost in the rush towards ‘care management’ which was to be the way that adult social care was organised after the NHS and Community Care Act.

I worked in an adult social care team before I moved into Mental Health services. The office had something of a ‘production line’ feel to it. Assess, review, close. Assess, review, close. Sometimes you would linger if there were direct payments involved but that would mostly be about referring to a different agency or part of the council to set up the payments and advise about employment regulations and advertising for assistance.

The relationship was and is lost. Is this what we study for? To assess, review and close with some safeguarding thrown in with increasing regularity. The processes have been streamlined almost to the point of any independent thought and true ‘assessment’ in the sense of being able to give professional judgements being rattled out of the processes to simplify.  This process has streamlined the heart out of social work for adults.

Critical analysis and reflection, yes, there is an option but it has to be in your own time and at your own rate. When we lose the critical analysis and reflection in our work though, we cease, to all intents and purposes being social workers and become care managers.

And where is the relationship-building? The listening. The advocacy. It has been costed out of the equation. It cannot be reduced to a performance indicator and therefore it has no value.

The issue is that it does have a value. It has a value to carers and to service users but often that value is unquantifiable and in a world of measurements and costs, unquantifiable is not where you want a value to lie. Because it is discarded.

The reason I moved from adult social care into mental health social work was because I felt my brain was stagnating to a point. Of course, things may have changed with self-directed support being more available now but I hope I always assessed in a person-centred and creative way. I certainly set up a lot of direct payments packages.

For the moment, in the mental health teams we do have a little more time to spend building therapeutic relationships. We have  more time to listen. It is all measured, of course, against outcomes because we have to be able to justify every minute we spend on paid time  but the ability to build relationships and to listen are, at least, embedded more strongly in the role.

I can’t see us ever going back to the days of being able to pop in for cups of tea. And we have lost much much more than a piece of cake along the way. We have lost the soul of the profession at the sniping jaws of employers who want to distil creativity out of the job because we need to meet specified targets in specified times. Everything is quantified.

Sometimes though, we need to be less complacent as employees. There are jobs going. There are changes coming in our services. Last years cuts are only the very start. They will come more quickly. Social Work is changing. It will move out of local authorities and I don’t think that will necessarily be a bad thing. It may be the best thing for the profession as a whole, in fact, if not for individual employees who won’t necessarily have the rock solid pensions and the now laughable idea of job security.

Perhaps we need to take more responsibility for our own work and our own profession in order to retain the values that remain at its heart and move into community work and macro-social work.

I occasionally get glimmers of real hope and drive for the future and the ways in which this profession can change and be changed and then, I look at the people at the top and wonder if there is any desire for truly structural changes in the way that social care and social work is delivered. Yes, I want personalisation to work, I really do but I want the value of good (and I really mean good) quality social work to be recognised in the process.

Yes, there are coercive elements to our role. I know that only too well as an Approved Mental Health Practitioner. I didn’t go into this job to be loved and as for respect, for the most part, I can take it or leave it – except for self-respect. I have to be able to feel I am giving the best every day I am at work and that regardless of some of the more coercive elements of my work, I am able to work according to my moral and ethical compass.

Sometimes I worry that has been lost but perhaps among the structural changes that are going on around us in social care, some true change can be affected.

I hope so.

Carers and Carers Week

Carer. Caregiver. Sometimes terminology overcomplicates. What is a carer? A husband or a wife. A partner.  A parent or a child. A neighbour. A friend. A niece or nephew. A brother or sister – by blood, or in spirit. A daughter or son-in-law. Sometimes it is the family ties that bind. Sometimes it a a friendship. Sometimes it is location or trust. Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason why one person ends up as ‘carer’ to another and sometimes it is fated or meant to be.

We, in these positions we hold, have this term we use ‘carer’. It means so many different things to different people though.  When does a parent become a carer? Or rather, when does a parent stop being a carer? Is there a ‘cut off’? When does a partner become a carer? Do they stop being a spouse to take on this new ‘role’ at any point? I don’t think so. There is no definition that seems to fit the word adequately so we shuffle around the corners of self-definition and sometimes demand it.

We need carer’s assessments for our performance indicators. You live with your mother and help her so you ARE a carer by our definition. Have an assessment. You say you are a wife and not a carer? Well, that doesn’t fit into our carefully determined figures. You ARE a carer by our definition. Have an assessment.

There seems to be a measure of convenience in the figures measured possibly with the best of intentions over this intensely personal and human relationship whereby one person may depend for care in an unpaid capacity (although there are blurs around the issue of payments and I’m oversimplifying) on another.

So this week is carer’s week in the UK. It is a time to focus on Carer’s – recognised and unrecognised – ‘defined’ and ‘non-defined’.

It is an area that interests me inherently. If we don’t care for carers we fail as a society. And in general, in my experience, we don’t.

There is the issue of money. It shouldn’t come first but in a capitalist society where worth seems to be determined on a basis of cash worth, we pay a Carers Allowance of £55.55 per week.

There are certain conditions attached to that sum which are worth sharing for those unaware of the parsimony 0f the state.

You may be able to get Carer’s Allowance if you:

  • are aged 16 or over
  • spend at least 35 hours a week caring for a person

They should be getting one of the following benefits:

  • Attendance Allowance
  • Disability Living Allowance (at the middle or highest rate for personal care)
  • Constant Attendance Allowance at or above the normal maximum rate with an Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit
  • Constant Attendance Allowance at the basic (full day) rate with a War Disablement Pension

You can’t get Carer’s Allowance if:

  • you’re in full-time education with 21 hours or more a week of supervised study – or doing a course described as full-time by the college or establishment providing it
  • you earn more than £100 a week after certain deductions (like Income Tax) have been made

35 hours a week as a minimum. £55.55 per week.

So there are a whole lot of people that Carer’s Allowance will not touch. Let’s think about THAT when the government narrative moves around ‘Benefit Cheats and Scroungers’.  Let’s not forget that the government are wanting to reduce DLA claimants by 20% so for the meagre amount that it is, that will affect the right of Carers to claim the pittance that they do.

Many whom we, as state employees may define as ‘carer’s’ don’t define themselves as carer’s. That’s one ‘problem’. The other is that the process of providing services for carer’s while better than it was, could still go a long way.

The argument is that we (the State) cannot pay everyone who would otherwise ‘care’ informally. We can’t recompense parents who are looking after their children or children who are looking after their parents because that monetises ‘normal’ family relationships.

But the issue is that some people need more help than others. Some situations are very far from ‘normal’. More than 35 hours a week care. That’s the equivalent of a full time job.

I don’t want to think about putting the caring role in terms of cash saved to the coffers of the local authorities and National Health Service because I think it’s not necessarily a ‘fair’ swap but we have to accept that as a society, we can provide a decent income and support for those who are providing a service for those who are ‘cared for’.

See, how easily I move into the self-same dichotomy I’m uncomfortable with. Creating ‘Carers’ and ‘Cared For’ as separate compartments is a part of the difficulty of definitions. It is the giver and the receiver and often in the context of family and friends those two ‘pots’ are not mutually exclusive.

But back to Carers Week regardless of definitions and the pots that we fit people into.

Recognition is important.

Carer’s Assessments that actually led to increased support and services rather than just a tick box on the ‘targets met’ column are important.

Allowing for self-definitions of carer’s and not making assumptions of ‘what is best’ is important.

Listening to carer’s through the assessment and care management process is important.

Respecting carer’s as advocates and experts is important and providing a decent quality of live through the provision of monetary support is important.

Being able to ditch assumptions and listen is important however people define their roles.

This week, Community Care are compiling a ‘Carers Wall’ with ideas of small things that make a difference to carers that we work with. That we are.

I am sure I’ll come back to this theme during the week as it is one that is close to my heart and one that is all the more important to shout about in times when cuts are looming.

The resources relating to Carers Week can be found here.

What makes a good care worker?

I haven’t been able to shake off the Panorama programme about the abusive care environment at Winterbourne View.  We spent quite a lot of time talking about it at work yesterday as well, at meetings and in the office.

It has pushed my mind back to the time, before I qualified when I worked for about 7 years (5 years full time and 2 years part time while I was studying) as a care/support worker before I qualified as a social worker.

I was fortunate to work in well run small group homes for adults with learning disabilities and had generally very good managers who encouraged person centred planning and the environment would not have tolerated any kind of mistreatment of the residents whom we were charged to look after.

It made me think about the qualities that would make a good care worker. I’m not saying I was particularly fantastic at my job. I enjoyed it and I enjoyed the interactions with the residents – but not being abusive doesn’t make you necessarily ‘good’ at your job.

The most important thing, I think, is not dependent on personal qualities so much as the ethos and environment that you work in. A team of colleagues who show respect to the residents in their own home and who are respected by their managers and each other will not tolerate one ‘rogue’ care worker stepping over the line.

In an environment like the one portrayed at Winterbourne View, there was no regulation or censure by other staff members or managers. The staff who were abusive were openly abusive and so there was a culture that had permeated the home of mistreatment and abuse. I do wonder how much the culture has been instilled in an organisation by management – not that that excuses any individuals from the personal responsibility they hold – but cultures and systems sometimes allow abuse to be perpetuated in an almost ‘Lord of the Flies’ type way when the management take their collective eyes of the ball. It is for that reason that the management of Castlebeck have to take responsibility.

There is also the issue of training of course, but the deeply developed culture of an organisation is more than a matter of training. It helps, don’t get me wrong. Everyone should know the basics and more about an ethos and environment and what best practice demands but training costs and if you are paying staff a minimum wage without allowing them to develop professionally, you won’t have the same levels of satisfaction and retention. Retention is very important in social care settings. I was lucky to have worked in the same two homes for those 7 years. I built up relationships such that I still pop in for ‘parties’ when I get my invites to the annual ‘anniversary’ celebrations (the anniversary of the home opening!).

So taking the environmental and structural issues into account, a good care worker needs patience. This is not necessarily inherent as a quality and I believe it can be learnt. I believe that self-awareness helps as well. Patience was not high on the lists of qualities displayed in Panorama but you need to be able to show judgement and sensitivity in knowing when to talk and when to walk.

Empathy is vital. Being able to see the people you work with and think about how they feel – about how their families feels and most importantly, treating everyone as you or (insert close family member whether child or parent) to be treated. That’s a very simple catch-all and it is hard to teach to someone but it’s a very basic precept. When you see someone with a disability or someone who is particularly old or young as a ‘victim’ or an ‘other’ type of person, it almost gives you free rein to treat them differently. That is a dangerous position to be in.

An understanding of the power dynamics is also vital. Some people seek out vulnerable people to work with in order to feel more powerful. Power silences people and it instils fear. It is important that the peer group are able to identify this and scotch this. This happens across the social work and social care sector. It will never disappear but having an awareness of it can help.

I often tell families of people who are going to look at residential homes to ask the staff about retention levels in the home – how long have they been there? Are they happy? (they may lie, of course!),  how many permanent staff and how many agency staff there are? Try and talk to staff who are carers and not managers.

There is no doubt that there is a lack of societal respect and appreciation for support workers and care workers in general. We allow our most vulnerable to be cared for by those who receive minimum wages and have poor working conditions.  That won’t change overnight but going back to the CQC and inspection regimes in general, it would be useful to have a deeper understanding of organisational cultures so they can be monitored but perhaps that is too big a job to undertake.

As for me, the years I spent carrying out hands-on care in a residential setting have been crucial to my development as a social worker. In some ways, that’s why I think it’s sad that some of the social care experience needed to go into social work has been reduced as I know I wouldn’t have as much to draw on when I go to review residential homes had I not had that experience.

Sometimes I miss the care work.  It was an honour and privilege to have such an important and significant daily role in the lives of others and in some ways, I was working in a much more person-centred way back then than I am now, through the reams of (virtual) paperwork.

Keeping Mum

I was sent information by a PR company about a book – Keeping Mum.

Keeping Mum: Caring for Someone with Dementia

I don’t usually respond to requests for information and advertising (and to be clear, this isn’t advertising as I haven’t been paid!) but I thought it might be a book that could be potentially interesting to people who might come across the site. I haven’t actually read the book yet and nor did I request a review copy – simply because I know I have such a backlog of books and lack of time at the moment but the information from the press release is as follows

“When Marianne Talbot’s mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Marianne found it impossible to put her mum into a care home. Instead Marianne cared for her mum in her own home for five years, whilst chronicling her experiences in a blog for three of those years.

The blog has now been published into a book called ‘Keeping Mum’. Heartwarmingly funny, frank and at times emotionally tearing, this book is a record of what it is like to care for a beloved parent whose mind is fragmenting. It is written for anyone, anywhere, who has anything to do with dementia or with caring.

The book also includes some great tips on daily living, managing others’ finances and the social care system. For more info please visit: http://www.keepingmum.org.uk/

Talbot’s blog can be found here and extracts from the book can be read here.

It has received excellent reviews on Amazon and I’m hoping that I will be able to find time to read it and review it properly but in the meantime, it seems to be worth checking out.

Personalisation and Professional Disillusionment

Yesterday, Community Care published the result of a survey they had undertaken about ‘personalisation’ among social care professionals.

The headline figures while wholly unsurprising, make for interesting reading where only 41% of respondents felt that service users would benefit from the implementation of personal budgets and 83% felt that cuts would impede the progress of the personalisation agenda.

To which my first thought was ‘only 83%’?

Anyone who has read some of my previous writing/ranting about personalisation will be pretty clear where I stand.

While the idea and the concept of introducing more person-centred support planning and opening up direct payments to a wider range of people is absolutely fantastic as a concept, the implementation has been dire.

There has been a complete side-lining of service user groups that don’t fit into the ‘easy’ mode – namely those with mental health problems, older adults and those who might not have capacity to involve themselves fully in the support planning process, the same figures and quotes that the government and her agencies roll out again and again about the man who pays for a PA to go with him to a football match instead of a day centre are so completely off the radar when the smaller pool of money available for care services exist that they are almost insulting to those for whom a) the thought of having enough money allocated to pay for two tickets to a football match would equal 7 showers a week – so it’s football or cleanliness and b) that group of people (because, yes, much as the government don’t want to accept it, they do exist) that actually WANT to go to day centres.

And so we plough on.

But even though I have had many criticisms of the way that personalisation and particularly personal budgets either managed centrally by the local authority (where the end effect is exactly the same for the service users in most situations) or delivered by direct payments (where someone has to have capacity and desire to take on the direct payment and employ assistants or have someone who is willing and able to do that for them) – there is more to the personalisation agenda and process which is in danger of being lost in the process.

Personalisation as a value base and an approach to work and social work in particular with people who need or who are eligible to receive services for care ties in perfectly with aims of re-addressing the power differential between provider and ‘receiver’ and the imbedded dichotomy between ‘giver’ and ‘taker’ in society.

That model of giver/taker which is bound within the welfare state system can create an imbalance and the potential to give back some of the ‘control’ and some of the decisions to the person who receives services may, in some way, redress elements of this balance. There is no way that my training and experience has taught me better than anyone else, what YOU as a recipient need. Yes, I learnt my theories and my models and understand that building social networks is important but if you prefer to do that at a coffee morning at the local museum instead of at a day centre that’s perfect. If you want your neighbour’s granddaughter to help with your personal care rather than an anonymous and frequently changing ‘carer’ from a local agency who is paid at mimimum wage and has a day full of appointments and who isn’t paid for travel time by her agency so she needs to cut short on some of the time – perfect.

But we already had that system with Direct Payments. Where is the difference?

Ideologically, the difference was that everyone would know how much money they were ‘getting’ – whether directly or managed and they would be able to be consumers. Our society tells us that money is power. Money creates consumers and the market will right itself.

Even, theoretically, when a personal budget is managed by a third party (and I include the local authority as a potential ‘manager’) you will know how much is ‘allocated’ to you so that you can ‘spend’ it in the way you want.

This doesn’t happen in practice though because local authorities need to save money and are still tied up into procurement contracts that make agencies unequal when ‘bidding’ for the funds that have been allotted via personal budgets.

I know this is getting a bit technical and complicated but it’s important to understand. I don’t think anyone can oppose ‘personalisation’ as an approach regarding empowerment and ideology.

The implementation, however, reeks of money-saving and penny pinching. It also has pushed the responsibility for services away from the local authorities and onto individuals and their carers.

You have £100 per week, find the care yourself – then we (the LA) aren’t responsible anymore.

I’m wholly in favour of contracting out assistance and advice on self-assessments and support planning to local voluntary sector organisations. My own LA tried that. We referred lots of people to them.  They withdrew because we were referring too  many people to them and the local organisations didn’t have the resources (or the contract) to undertake as many support plans as were being referred – but the idea is not one I have any problem with and in fact, I rather like it.

But this wasn’t offered to people who do not have the capacity to lead in their own self-assessment and support planning. The organisations couldn’t do that because they were not experienced in non-directed advocacy work – it takes longer.

It is hard to see through the budget cuts as well towards a future where, as Burstow as said he wants direct payments to be the ‘preferred method’ of delivery of personal budgets.  I don’t want to detract from the fact that this is and will be fantastic for some, perhaps most people, we move to a model where there is – again – a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

The true tragedy of the personalisation agenda is that is has and is coming to fruition during a period of cuts – the government (and the previous Labour government too) want to pull back the responsibilities of local authorities and with the criteria for accessing any support is rising rapidly it may well be that more and more personal budgets are delivered directly from peoples’ own savings or disability benefits (while they still exist).

I am fearful of the future for adult social care but I’m not necessarily unhopeful.

I think there is potential for change and development but unfortunately the ways I see of improving systems come at higher cost.  There has to be some major research and debate about the delivery of personal budgets and the way that personalisation encompasses people who lack capacity and lack advocates (family and friends) and how they can best benefit from this process – perhaps access to additional funds to pay for the trust fund type system of management we were assured would happen but in practice is not feasible for a relatively small sum of money as it costs more than it might deliver.

We need to see more about how support planning can work in the voluntary sector as, speaking personally, I genuinely don’t have time to do the process of support planning any justice as a part of my day to day job. It ends up being rushed because I can’t devote a couple of visits of a couple of hours to talk through and develop a truly person centred support plan.

The process of self-assessment needs to be reconsidered because while the idea is fantastic for some people – our self-assessment forms are biased towards physical disabilities and look scarily similar to a DLA form where people are asked to explain how they are on ‘their worst day’. That doesn’t really help with confident-building when you are working with someone who has very low self-esteem and depression/anxiety. The process of self-assessment in itself can and has been traumatic – let alone the person who is not able to engage with the assessment process due to a lack of mental capacity where questions about ‘dreams, hopes and wishes for the future’ while well-intentioned, can be hurtful and hard for families to listen to when they are asked to their parent who has advanced dementia.

I fear we have allowed a great conceit to be steamrollered into simply another ‘one size fits all’ approach to developing social care. It doesn’t have to be like this but that seems to be the government perception about what ‘personalisation and personal budgets’ are.

Choice is fantastic of course, but sometimes people want quality as well. It shouldn’t ever need to be an either/or. It does feel like it at the moment with the promotion of choice above all things.

So where are we going? Personalisation isn’t going away and nor should it. Personal budgets aren’t going away and nor should they.  Local authorities, however, might be going away – further and further away from social care and the responsibilities that they hold towards it.

We keep up with the advocacy and with the systems that are failing because we owe it to those who are reliant on these systems to make them work as best they can but we keep trying to pinpoint and pin down the flaws in the implementation with the hope that sometime, some day, someone will listen.

As professionals we don’t oppose personalisation. We have always been trying to use person-centred approaches. We just dislike injustice and inequity and that seems to be painted all over the current implementation and the frustration is that so few people (if any) in government seem to be aware.  Am I disillusioned? Yes, definitely. We were promised new ways of working in a more person centred way.

Desperate, no, not yet though as long as there’s some fight left in the belly to keep banging on and on and on about what personalisation SHOULD be and why it isn’t working yet. Not for everyone.