Magazine article Public Finance

The Personal Gets Political

Magazine article Public Finance

The Personal Gets Political

Article excerpt

THE STATEMENT THAT adult social care is going through the most dramatic reform since the Beveridge Report is so oft-repeated that we are in danger of forgetting what this implies. Social care transformation encompasses several strands - an increase in preventive services, a reduction in outof-area placements and so on. But it is the introduction of personal budgets that monopolises the attention.

Thousands of older and disabled people have been offered a personal budget, and around 500 a month are taking them up. By 2011 at least onethird of all recipients of publicly funded care services in every local authority will be offered one.

Putting purchasing power in the hands of service users can lead to a better service for them, at a lower cost to the taxpayer. Other departments - and shadow ministers and advisers - are watching closely.

But behind this new dynamic is the blood, sweat and tears of practical change, as rhetoric crashes into reality. Within five years, 1.5 million people could be using personal budgets. Service providers are wondering how they will survive without the security of block contracts; and councils are working out what it means for their current commissioning relationships.

The most obvious question of all is: how will people who hold a personal budget want to spend it? The problem is, of course, we don't know. The early indications from people already using them are not representative. Personal budgets have been disproportionately taken up by people with learning disabilities and often individuals who were quite unhappy with the services they were getting. Hence the early stories of people spending their personal budgets on football season tickets, which excited and terrified in equal measure.

Last month, Demos, together with Barchester Health, Castlebeck and four local authorities, launched the At your service report, which looks at how the introduction of personal budgets might affect the social care market. Between December 2008 and July 2009, we surveyed 263 people who were using health and social care services - but did not have a personal budget - to explore what prospective budget holders knew and thought about personal budgets.

Three immediate general findings stand out. …

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