How to ‘do different’ in social care reform – guest blog

February 5, 2013 by
Filed under: Social Economy 

35 social care professionals, local authority representatives and policymakers discussed reforms to the draft Care and Support Bill at an event hosted by the RSA’s 2020 Public Services Hub. Alex Fox FRSA, CEO of Shared Lives Plus, guest blogs about the event and Bill.

There can be few people unaware that there are NHS reforms afoot in the UK. Yet few are aware that the most sweeping social care reforms in post-war history are now taking place, with existing ‘poor-law’ based social care law to be replaced by new legislation outlined in the draft Care and Support Bill.

The Care and Support White Paper which preceded the Bill set out a new vision for the ‘personalisation’ of social care. This takes the idea of individuals having an individual choice of service and control over their lives as read, but recognises that even a well-funded, well-tailored service does not always add up to a good life, particularly if your support needs are social rather than entirely physical. For instance, taking a cash Direct Payment in lieu of a service to hire and manage a team of Personal Assistants can be the ideal solution for meeting physical support needs while staying in charge of one’s own life. One individual who now manages his own care said, “When I got my disability I was stuck in hospital whilst services argued over paying for adaptations to my house.” Yet if someone’s challenges involve isolation or social exclusion, the solutions are likely to lie partly in that individual’s unpaid relationships with families, friends and others in their community.

The reorganisation of social care around promoting wellbeing is a radical and welcome vision. But there is concern that the draft Care and Support Bill will not fully enable this vision in practice. Five pioneering community support organisations -Community Catalysts, In Control, Inclusion North, Inclusive Neighbourhoods, Partners in Policymaking, Shared Lives Plus, as well as a leading Director of Adult Services – have argued in a briefing on the draft Care & Support Bill that the Bill needs set out a different route into – and out of – social care to  achieve an affordable, more empowering and more successful care system.

In particular, the care organisations argue that eligibility tests should not be the first conversation which people have when they encounter social care. Instead, they should be offered support with life-planning as the first intervention. These personal planning discussions would look first at the individual’s strengths and skills, rather than considering only their needs; then at their existing supportive relationships with family, friends and the wider community; and lastly at services. The wellbeing principle should be developed to set out in plain English a minimum acceptable level of wellbeing to replace the current Fair Access to Care Services (FACS) eligibility criteria.

The recommendations are based on the care organisations’ experience of how people are changing lives and communities for the better, often with less money than has been spent on traditional services. At a recent roundtable hosted by the RSA’s 2020 Public Services Hub and chaired by Paul Burstow MP, who currently chairs the Joint Committee scrutinising the draft Care and Support Bill, one participant said that the current system intends to be empowering but “drags us back” into a deficit-focused model and “dependency culture”. In contrast, when disabled people and family carers themselves are involved in explaining support options to others, there can be a more honest conversation. A parent said, “When I had my daughter in the 1970s it felt like I’d fallen down a rabbit hole into a world I didn’t know existed. I had no support strategies and was battling every day to get simple things. Other local parents were holding on to what they knew and were wary of change.”

Likewise, Partners in Policymaking runs citizen leadership courses for disabled individuals and the parents of disabled sons and daughters, and brings families together for peer support and to influence decision makers. Before the courses participants say that they would often “just talk about their problems, not about what would make things better”. After completing the courses, many people get jobs and some set up groups or social enterprises to tackle the challenges they have experienced: “I would have been one of those parents who wrapped my daughter in cotton wool, but I started to see her as a citizen of this world with the same rights as others and now she’s done two degrees. We learnt to ask for what was needed, not what was on offer and we built a community. One young man would have gone into residential care when his Mum went into hospital, but with support from the network he is still living at home after seven months.”

Moving away from the mindset of “These services are what we have on offer” towards “What would you see as a good life and how can you move towards living it?” represents a huge culture change, particularly at a time when many services are in crisis mode. Mechanism changes such as personal budgets, implemented in the aim of personalising care, have not always created change of this kind. Though some councils, providers and professionals have implemented personal budgets, these are still used to buy the same old services staffed by the same people. In contrast, two social entrepreneurs described how they had built upon the skills and insights they had gained working within public services to identify a gap in current provision, going on to set up their own small enterprise which provides transition support for young disabled adults which is tailored to their goals in life. They are just one of around 800 micro-enterprises known to the partner organisations.

A new social care law cannot legislate for culture change of this kind. But, while Direct Payments remained little used for a decade after they were introduced into law, the cultural shift towards individual control which eventually followed them would not have happened without the original legislative change.

Some councils are already trying to make a change of this kind, even within the present system, with FACS tests replaced by questions which could be used to define acceptable wellbeing such as: Are you safe? Can you live with dignity? Do you rely upon services for personal care? Are you connected to those around you? Are you able to be an active citizen in your community? A personal planning approach which helps people to find, recognise and use all kinds of resources and relationships, including family care, community groups and new links to people in similar situations, will often find ways of improving wellbeing without relying upon services.

However, developing a different approach to care with local spending cuts of up to 40 per cent is clearly a challenge: “we are reneging on the welfare state commitment made in the ’40s, with no evidence that the taxpayer will step up. So we either abandon those goals, put our hands in our pockets, or take collective responsibility and have a new public discourse on care.” Or as one council representative said, “it’s not ‘doing more with less’, it’s doing ‘different’. We need to remember that we are often the minority partner in the provision of care and to be careful about where we are putting our big feet. The economy of regard doesn’t function in ways in which we always understand.”

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