Personal Budgets in Practice

Recently, I’ve been working with a service user and his carer (daughter) to put together a  support plan or rather two support plans – one for him and one for his daughter . The two live together and without his daughter’s presence, there is no doubt at all that the man, G, would be in residential care so the personal budget is relatively substantial.  G has advanced dementia. His daughter who is a strong advocate for him and a devoted carer has given  up her job in order to care for her father. She receives carers allowance which is a pitiful £55.55. Think about that – for constant care (yes, she gets respite but that is sparse and shrinking).

As for creativity with G’s support plan, it isn’t particularly, because he has quite specific personal care needs and there is no scope for much creativity regarding tasks apart from the ability to potentially employ someone from outside the usual agencies.  Oh, we can choose the time and the ‘blocks of care’ but the type of care needed is specific so we can’t ‘skip a shower one day so there’s more time for a bath the next (seriously, that was suggested in one of the training sessions I attended!)’ as health reasons determine the need for regular visits. G’s support plan is, what we call a ‘managed personal budget’. That means that a virtual budget is assigned to G and I make the arrangements for agencies to cover the specified hours. I don’t get a choice of agencies. The agencies that are employed are those that have won ‘bidding’ contests with the local authority and are party to block contracts.

This ‘counts’ as a ‘personal budget’ for the purposes of the local authorities’ ‘figures’ even though the effect is exactly the same as it was prior to the ‘personalisation agenda’ – no, wait, there is a difference. I have three times the amount of paperwork to complete. Am I working in a more ‘person-centred’ way – well, I hope that I was ALWAYs involving service users and carers in care planning. That’s not to say that direct payments haven’t been enormously liberating and positive for a lot of service users. I absolutely don’t believe that everyone should have ‘managed’ personal budgets but it is a fallacy to believe the ‘hype’ that this personalisation agenda has brought the same benefits for all service users.

So we move to the idea that Burstow promotes that all support plans should be delivered by direct payments. We discussed delivering this package via direct payments, when I promoted even a slither of interest, I invited someone from our direct payments team round to meet the family (because they can ‘sell it’ better than me and can answer all the detailed questions about implementation and finances that sometimes I can’t) and we stalled. Why? Because G’s daughter felt genuinely stressed and frightened at the thought of employing someone directly – the agencies that accept the direct payments amounts are limited and don’t include her preferred agency and if she went with the preferred agency, her father would lose vital necessary hours of care.  She has little enough time to herself as it is and spending more time managing and planning her father’s care processes was something she felt that we should be doing.

Her father has very poor cognitive functioning to the extent that communication is very difficult.  The direct payment option, was, she saw, a way to push more stress onto her as a carer.

This is a reality that some of those who are implementing the wonderful new world of everyone receiving direct payments type personal budgets really have to address.

However I do have a more positive story to follow up on. That is that she, (M’s daughter) has a carer’s personal budget for herself which is delivered via a direct payment. While I won’t go into the details about what has been provided, you’ll have to trust me on this as I say we have been able to be incredibly ‘creative’ with the support planning of the carer’s personal budget and it will have an immediate positive effect on her quality of life. So all’s well that end’s well.

Generally, I have had a lot of success with carer’s personal budgets being implemented and I think that has been because the money provided (although not very much) is money in addition to the core care needs for the cared-for person.  There is a scope for more interesting ideas of things to use the money for.

It’s hard to see how more creativity can be instilled without more money and as long as the figures allow ‘managed’ personal budgets to be ‘counted’ we won’t have a real idea of how ‘ground-breaking’ these programmes are.

I don’t know the answers to these problems – I hope some of those consultants who are paid multiples of my salary and can spend all their days in discussions and consultations are able to come up with some genuinely practical responses rather than the usual ‘try harder/work harder/involve users (as if we don’t do all this already’.

Let’s see.

And on a final unrelated point, I saw a link to this blog yesterday on Twitter. It is written by the 18 year old son of someone with Alzheimer’s and I found it excellent and insightful.

Help to care

I first saw on the news over the weekend about the report produced by the Institute for Public Policy Research related to  Personalised Budgets for Carers and it baffled me a little bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely think that carers need, deserve and are entitled to a lot more support than is available presently.

The Carers Allowance is, quite frankly, an insult to those who put in so many hours and whose lives are changed by the amount of care that is put in (as well as, on a less emotive level, the amount of money that is saved by both the NHS and Social Services). Also (for what its worth) it’s linked to Disability Living Allowance/Attendance Allowance and is means-tested. All of which contribute to its inefficiency.

But the call for personalised budgets seems to be, as far as I can garner, more or less the same as Direct Payments for Carers – which is explained much better on the Worcestershire County Council site (thank you, Worcestershire – and no, I don’t work there – actually, I don’t think I’ve ever been there!) as follows


‘Support for Carers

A Direct Payment can be provided to enable family and informal carers to purchase the services they are assessed as needing as carers to support them and to maintain their own health and well-being.

A Carers Assessment and Support Plan should be completed to identify the impact of caring on the person’s life along with the support they require to continue caring or to take a break from their caring role.

Carers are able to use Direct Payments to purchase support in any variety of ways including:

  • Short breaks for themselves and/or the people they care for;
  • Personal assistance within the home;
  • Sitting services;
  • Social, education and leisure activities;
  • Transport costs;
  • Equipment
  • Relaxation, stress management and holistic therapies.

Some of the intended outcomes of using Direct Payments for carers are:

  • Promoting social inclusion through greater opportunities for carers to actively participate in family and community life;
  • Greater opportunities for the personal development of carers;
  • Promotion of the carer’s health, well-being and coping skills;
  • More responsive, timely and consistent methods of providing support, with greater opportunities for creativity;
  • Values the essential contribution carers make to family life and the wider community.

Under the service, young people, aged 16-to17-years, are also eligible to receive Direct Payments to support them in their role as young carers and to minimise any difficulties or isolation they may experience in undertaking their caring responsibilities’.

image psd @ flickr

I have to say I like the direct payment scheme as it works for carers because it is incredibly flexible. Indeed, I’d say it is the easiest way to provide direct support to carers and in the most visible way – so I’ve got a fair amount of experience using it.

In a lot of ways, it is a lot more flexible than the direct payments provided for service users because it can be used for ‘anything that would support the carer’ – so gym membership, travel costs, parking costs, washing machines – there is the ability to be much more creative. ‘

And it exists now – today and has been used with frequency.

So that’s why I didn’t really understand the call by the IPPR for personalised budgets with no comment about what is actually happening in social services departments to support carers today. Maybe they are calling for more money to be a part of the personalised budgets (a good thing) or more control (although the control can be basically in the hands of the carer themselves), more exposure to issues that matter to carers or less scrutiny from local authorities who provide the funding.

I suppose I’ll have to actually read the whole report rather than just the reporting of it!

I noticed that Sophie Moullin from the IPPR wrote about this in the Guardian and from what she says, I can’t see any difference in the new system she proposes to what is actually, legislatively in place at the moment.

I am absolutely in favour of anything that will help though and if the proposed system will ringfence more money or provide more exposure or utilisation of services then I’m the first person to applaud it.

But to promote the new system which has a lot of links with Carers’ Direct Payments without discussing the failings of that particular system and to look at the issue as if this system didn’t exist, seems not to be giving a true picture of the situation as it is today. Perhaps more needs to actually be done to increase awareness of the system as it exists today and promote use and access to it.