Personal Budgets of the future

The biggest secret of personal budgets is no one wanted them, not users, not professionals, not the government, and not even Simon Duffy. We all wanted Individual Budgets! The idea of individual budgets was that funding from local authority social care, Independent Living Fund, Access to Work and others would come together to form a single budget, great idea.

I was part of the Individual Budget pilot in Coventry and maybe one of the few people in the country who can claim they still have an individual budget. The problem was the Independent Living Fund refused to cooperate and I don’t think Access to Work had a clue what it was. So Individual budgets quickly became personal budgets that only focused on local authority funding but unlike a direct payment, it could be, and is often, merely an itemised bill of what is spent on behalf of a user.

The problem with personal budgets was they came with the demand from DH ministers that local authorities adopted the Resource Allocation System (RAS), the brainchild of Simon Duffy. I know he will be reading this and that we have not been on each other’s christmas card list for many years, and we have actually never met. I will let Duffy explain what RAS is. RAS works well when you are sharing out a packet of sweets to those who don’t really depend on them. Decommissioning unneeded day care services for people with learning difficulties, taking out the savings, and divided the money up ‘fairly’ so they can be used creatively, works. But transferring the Resource Allocation System model en mass to all the client groups was a disaster as a ‘right’ quickly became an ‘indicative budget’ and a pointless exercise of a failed policy that wasted so much money.

The bigger picture in that sadly even if you brought all the cutting edge ‘disability activists’ in the country in one room, they would be metaphorically discussing improving the treatment of black slaves, not their liberation. There is now a clear divide in how current politics and the media generally regards people with lesser impairments and those with higher support needs. I am aware that considering SHA asks me for a contribution knowing my unusual background, many readers will refuse to acknowledge this fact. But it is a fact the new/old Labour Party needs to understand and work with, and meaningful personal budgets is one solution.

One of  the oddest issues I have had working in the social care field is that despite people understanding I employ my own personal assistants and I am self-employed, I am still politely asked by the most senior of people who pulls my strings as they hope there is a comfortable and acceptable puppet master who is keeping me under control when I misbehave. When the penny drops I am the puppet master, you can see the colour go from their faces!

I believe real personal budgets is about creating puppet masters not puppets. This is extremely scary for national and local government, professionals, charities (like Learning Disability England), service providers and even families, who have depended on disabled people being puppets for power, financial benefits and other reasons for many decades. Trying to get people to let go of this power is the greatest challenge of social care as this is not happening as fast as some people would suggest.

If I had the opportunity to start again with personal budgets and change any laws, I would scrap every ‘additional cost’ monies and benefits like DLA/PIP, a part of ESA, current local authority funding, Access to Work, education and health support etc and roll it into one super personal budget. These would be coproduced between professionals and users, and made up from a number of awards designed by them, like work, evenings and weekends, so someone does not have all their eggs in the same basket in terms of reassessments.

These new personal budgets will be managed by local public bodies, like ‘Support Coventry’ connected to local councils and working within the national framework of ‘Support England’. Depending on the level of funding, it will go to ‘panel’ that will include trained service users from other areas. Most importantly, there will be an effective appeals and complaints system.

We need to end label based entitlements whether they are real, imagined or expected. Having diabetes or any other impairment label should not automatically mean being entitled to a Motability Car. People should get what they need when they need it. Two people with the same degree of any specific condition may actually have a very different set of needs and outcomes.

My impression from many discussions with people over the last decade is that my idea of ‘super personal budgets’ is on the cards and its a matter of time whoever is in power. The current way disabled people need to access relevant support is broken culturally and functionally, going back to 1948, and this is the way out for a fresh start.