(Note – I wrote this for something else where it was not used but thought, I’ve put the work in and might as well see if anyone else finds it useful/interesting! That’s why it’s a slightly different style from my usual rants and definitely drier#.. and why there’s a bibliography!)
Personalisation policy and the principles of developing person-centred care have promised a great deal in terms of increased choice and control for service users, and a change in focus towards greater user participation in services. While putting people at the heart of services is fundamental to a progressive and ethical social care culture, the gap between practice and policy in relation to the personalisation agenda can look like an insurmountable chasm to the practitioner. This is an area where promises have bounded ahead of practice experience.
What is personalisation?
Personalisation is a process which puts people who use services at the heart of decision-making about what is right for them and how their care and support needs will be met. The opaque jargon of social care can be a barrier to communicating key concepts, and defining ‘personalisation’ is crucial as the term is used in different ways and attracts meanings which can depend on the agenda of the speaker. Sometimes personalisation can be used as a synonym for person-centred practice and support. Gardner (2011) explains that ‘personalisation’ incorporates “different strands of ideology, theory, policy and practice”(p2). Not all definitions are inclusive of the groups of people who may lack capacity to make decisions for themselves about their care needs so it is easy to see how the rhetoric can overtake the reality.
The ‘personalisation’ agenda as it has been known is more than moving people to ‘personal budgets’ and the roll out of direct payments as a default mechanism for delivering social care. It is about moving the paradigm of ‘power’ away from the centre and towards the individual. The development of this personalisation agenda took place in the context of a great deal of excitement and promise. In the early stages where the Independent Living Fund (ILF) was created in 1988, allowing for the first time people who used services to directly commission and purchase their own services. This continued through the various configurations of direct payments (initially introduced through the Community Care (Direct Payments) 1996 Act) as they made their way through different user groups and the scope extended, leading to Putting People First (2007) which pushed through the ‘transformation agenda’ in adult social care to move towards personalisation for all.
It is important that we don’t confuse ‘personalisation’ with ‘direct payments’ nor ‘personal budgets’. Different models of providing people with more choice and autonomy over decisions which are made regarding their care can be done in many different ways and in some ways, the handing out of money and telling people to get on with it – with or without the requisite support – is a very narrow attitude to take in terms of allowing choice. Choice has to include a choice in the way that we can choose about what we receive, but there has been a political emphasis on direct payments as the gold standard of choice and that leaves some at a much greater disadvantage than others in terms of having control over their own support packages. The jargon and language attached to the change in adult social care creates a layer of professional knowledge so that in itself, it removes elements of knowledge and control from people who use services.
Gardner (2011) states that “Personalisation reinforces the idea that the individual is best placed to know what they need and how these needs can be best met. It assumes that people can be responsible and make their own decisions but people need information and support to do so” (p34).
Personalisation is about far more than ‘cash in pocket’. The system embraces models for establishing different routes to choose but in practice some of these are scarcely developed. For example, using individual service funds to buy support for older adults and people with mental health needs. This focus on the individual being at the heart of the process of choosing and having more control over the care that they are provided with and establishing a framework for person-centred practice lies at the heart of the ‘personalisation’ agenda. However, the path towards a goal that it is impossible not to support wholeheartedly has become muddied with the realities of spending cuts, local authority processes and challenges which have been continually ignored rather than addressed.
The policy has been driven by the wish to overpromise in terms of extending personal budgets (and hence the ‘personalisation’ agenda) to all within specific time frames where the reality has not been able to keep up. So we have seen the reinterpretation of ‘personalisation’ to represent care and support packages that in reality look no different at all to those which were delivered 5 or 10 years ago but with a different layer of language and bureaucracy layered on top of them. This creates further disillusion within the profession, especially as the social work profession is committed to increasing person-centred practice and empowerment of individuals in the face of the ‘system’ which can sometimes be oppressive and dictatorial.
The implementation challenges for the personalisation agenda have been extensive. While this is to be expected in any process involving widespread changes behind both the philosophy of a system and the systems themselves, the agenda of promoting user involvement, choice and co-production has moved at different rates for different user groups. For example, while the roots of the personalisation agenda lie in the Independent Living Fund and the processes built on driving forward choice and control for adults with physical disabilities and learning disabilities, SCIE report 40 (Newbronner et al , 2011) explains that “There is a risk that people in later life are being squeezed into a ‘one size fits all’ model of personalisation designed with and for younger people with physical and/or learning disabilities”.
Practitioners on the ground who are often the key to success of failure of these policies in practice perceive that there is little interest in addressing their experiences or hearing their feedback.
Personalisation is an important policy aim and it is important that it works. The idea of self-directed support (or personalisation) has been a process and direction through which policy has been travelling for decades. It touches on the fundamental aims of what social work is about and how it is used in practice. There have been many changes in the way adult social work has operated since the NHS and Community Care Act (1990) was rolled out and particularly as ‘social work’ developed into ‘care management’ through this period. So why was ‘personalisation’ needed? As local authorities disavowed themselves of delivering services directly, the logical step, as purchasers of services would be to ask people who used those services to have a greater input and role in making decisions about which services were commissioned. That, at the heart of it, is personalisation. One of the main criticisms within the care management model of services and care plans being written by social workers with services being defined by block contracts was that there was that this was very much a ‘one size fits all’ attitude which left people with little choice apart from accepting or declining the services which were on offer (Maclean, 2011).
The policy move to change this and to shift the ‘power’ from the provider to the user has been wholly positive. There is no professional expertise in deciding what meets the needs of individuals that cannot be trumped by the individual deciding for themselves. For this policy to move into practice, there have been accompanying bureaucratic and process-driven changes, such as the introduction of self-assessment processes and attempts at rationalising resources with some transparency (with mixed effects) around the amounts of money spent on care so that people can make their decisions about the services which best suit them. While the direct payment model is the most touted, there are also routes through local authority managed budgets and individual service funds (ISFs) where budgets are shifted to service providers to deliver as required by the service users.
How is personalisation?
The barriers to extending personalisation have been addressed in numerous research literature. There is much evidence which seems to repeat the same conclusions that the progress of different models of delivering care, because ‘personalisation’ is about more than direct payments. This leads to frustration among practitioners that the current barriers are exactly the same barriers which were identified to the same groups of people as those to direct payments five years ago with little progress in some areas.
SCIE carried out research (Newbronner et al , 2011) focusing on people with mental health needs and older people which were the groups of people where the take up of personal budgets has been slower to gain traction. They looked at the different ways that personal budgets were offered: namely those which were directly commissioned and managed by the local authority, third party managed accounts, direct payments or a mixture of these things. They found that there was a risk that inherent processes to assess and allocate resources such as the RAS (resource allocation system) and the assessment process which may be initially a self-assessment or a facilitated process of assessment depending on the local authority and the individuals’ needs, needed to be tailored more finely towards the relevant user group.
“Where a generic system [for RAS] was used it highlighted inequalities for resource allocation between client groups. Older people, especially those with high care needs, appeared to be the most disadvantaged.” (Newbronner et al , 2011) p9
This lack of equitable access through the ‘front-door’ leads to increased disillusionment with a process which is supposedly designed to be enabling and supportive.
Another barrier is that of attitude of social worker and organisation, which is mentioned in an Age UK report “Personalisation in practice” written in 2011.
“There was a concern among support providers and some LA/Trust staff that many PB (personal budget) holders, especially older ones, were being steered away from direct payments and towards managed accounts or services by the LA (local authority” p9.
This indicates that some of the ‘blockage’ on progress and implementation is within the systems which are meant to promote it.
The intransigence of social workers and the lack of desire to embrace new models of service provision which move the locus of ‘control’ away from the professional and towards the person who uses the service has often been argued as a reason for the poor take up of direct payments first ( (Littlechild, 2002) where they say, in relation to direct payments, the forebear of the current personal budgets “it is not disabled people making informed decisions to reject the idea of a direct payments package, but their social workers effectively depriving them of access to direct payments by failing to provide information and support” (p138). This is a harsh judgement to put at the feet of practitioners but it is one that is popular among policy drivers as it is easier to blame the attitudes of practitioners than to evolve methods to promote and simplify the methods of delivery of the personalisation agenda.
Unfortunately the ‘blame’ agenda took hold early in the development of policy making and has led to greater alienation of practitioners who do want to try and make things work. There is a sense of being blamed for not embracing personalisation when the system is flawed, not because they are negative but because the processes are inexorable and have been built to reflect the needs of particular service user groups whose needs, priorities, and abilities are not universal. Effectively, policies are designed to fit some service user groups at the expense of others. Glasby (2012) states “one danger [of the roll out of personalisation] may be that current policy rhetoric is so strong that it is difficult for people with legitimate concerns and questions to raise these in an open and safe environment. Speaking to front line practitioners, some feel as if expressing doubts can be seen as ‘heresy’ and they are reluctant to say what they are thinking. While this may not have been the intention of policy makers, it could be a significant barrier in change if people feel concerned about a policy but don’t feel comfortable exploring this further, and simply disagree in silence.” (p8)
In some of the legitimate concerns, (Newbronner et al , 2011) explains that there is an inherent biases present. Referring to resource allocation schemes (RAS) the study found that “Where a generic system was used it highlighted inequalities in resource allocation between client groups. Older people, especially those with high care needs, appeared to be the most disadvantaged.” (p6)
There are therefore, many legitimate concerns which have been evidenced through research into ways that personal budgets have been used with different user groups has shown. It is vital that the cautions voiced by less enthusiastic practitioners and service users are embraced by those who are guiding policy, rather than being written off as being ‘negative’ without having the chance for their voices to be heard and for lessons to be learnt as a result.
Another challenge that is faced in practice is one of time. Quality support planning needs the investment of time. In the ideal world, presented by those who ‘run with’ the agenda, everyone is able to take an active part in making decisions for themselves and choosing their own care to meet their needs, as defined by themselves. The reality is that some groups have not been able to engage in the process of taking an active role in their own support planning; they are effectively excluded. This may be because they lack the capacity to manage a direct payment or organise a personal budget themselves, or because they lack support systems around them, such as family to help them do this.
SCIE report 40 (Newbronner et al , 2011) emphasises the fact that older people are more likely to need care during a crisis. People undergoing a crisis are likely to be less able, at least initially, to engage in the process of planning and organising their own care. Intermediate care teams typically assess and set up a temporary interim care plan and budget. Support planning then takes place a second time once the person is in a more stable situation and able to take stock. The time taken to set up a more personalised care plan in terms of the administration hoops to jump through are a significant barrier to some people and some ways of providing support.
Where does Personalisation go?
The ideology behind personalisation is sound and needs to be embraced wholeheartedly.
As practitioners we want work to support, involve and include people who use our services. The future must involve a stronger focus on services and delivery of services in conjunction with people who use them, but in order to get there, we need there to be a realistic, no-blame space for discussion between those who make policy and those who implement policy, as well as those who use services who lie at the centre of the social care system. There is still a disparity in terms of those who are best served by current practice. People who have benefited most from personalisation are those with the best advocacy and loudest voices. For the policy to embed itself in practice, it needs to offer the same quality and opportunity for flexibility to all user groups including those who are not able to raise their voices and who don’t have family advocates to speak for them. That’s where the role of the social worker has scope to be established to a much greater extent. As practitioners on the ground they have some of the most acute understanding of the challenges faced by people they work with, particularly people who are not able to best articulate their own concerns. If personalisation is going to work for everyone, we need to hear the voices from practice.
Age UK. (2011). Personalisation in practice : lessons from experience. London: Age UK.
Netten et al (2012). Personalisation through Individual Budgets : Does it work and for Whom? . British Journal of Social Work , 1556-1573.
Gardner, A. (2011). Personalisation in Social Work . London : Sage.
Glasby, J. (2012). The controversies of choice and control – why some people might be hostile to English Social Care Reforms . British Journal of Social Work 1-15
Littlechild, J. G. (2002). Social Work and Direct Payments. Bristol : Policy Press.
Maclean, S. (2011). Personalisation and Person-Centred Care. London : City and Guilds.
Newbronner et al . (2011). SCIE report 40 : Keeping Personal Budgets personal : learning from the experiences of older people, people with mental health problems and their carers. London: SCIE .