I had a trip down memory lane this week. I attended Coventry City Council’s “It’s all about you” event at the British Transport Museum. This was a public event, promoting the personalisation agenda in social care and health and I pitched up with a friend. It was good to catch up with former colleagues, including people I had worked with on the Individual Budgets pilot in Coventry. This was where I first became steeped in the opportunities and challenges of adopting an outcomes –focused approach and tailoring support to individuals, rather than the traditional approach of people having to fit into fixed, pre-determined services. This is where I developed my passion for personalisation, enabling people to have choice and control over their own lives.
But the atmosphere at that time (three years ago) was different. It was before the CUTS in public services. The IB project, involving 13 pilot sites across the country, was well resourced. In Coventry, specifically, our project involved just 40 people – as we were concentrating on people undergoing major changes in their lives. It was SO rewarding.
I led the “research and evaluation” workstream and co-produced a booklet called “Our Stories”. We worked with a great team from Coventry University and enabled the participants to tell their own stories through a variety of media (their choice, of course!) including photos, video, diaries, audio recordings and, the one I loved most, a giant (yes GIANT – 28 feet by 10 feet!) jigsaw. I am still proud of that project. We had the luxury of time and resources and made a real difference to people’s lives.
I had always wondered how this would pan out when individual budgets (as they were then) were extended (or “rolled out, to use the jargon) to everyone. Could quality be maintained alongside quantity? Could it all become the “normal” way of doing things (“mainstreamed”). Would it be suitable for all client groups, as our project mainly involved younger adults with learning disabilities or physical disabilities? What about older people or people who lacked mental capacity or who did not have strong advocates among family and friends? (Co-incidentally, some very similar issues have been explored in depth this week in an excellent blog by Fighting Monsters).
And these questions and concerns were all before the CUTS…
So, back to the event in Coventry… There was a real buzz when we arrived. It was well attended, the people manning the stalls were enthusiastic and helpful, the atmosphere was upbeat. There was even a saxophone playing some rather random notes from time to time. We joined in a rather chaotic game of spending personal budgets… I wonder where they got the idea of explaining personalisation through a game…
We were “in the shoes” of Sally – we knew what her agreed “outcomes” were and we visited the stalls to find creative ways of spending the personal budget to meet the outcomes. We were offered exciting things like driving lessons or perhaps a trip to the cinema or the chance to buy a pet – all the things that could indeed enhance Sally’s life and are central to personalisation. All as it should be.
“It’s all about you”. People were carrying lovely, colourful bags saying “It’s all about you”. The messages were the messages of personalisation, finding ways of using money more creatively to enhance lives.
But there is less money. A lot less money.
The rest of this blog is NOT about Coventry. Or rather, I have no idea whether it applies equally to Coventry as I am not trying to focus on any particular local authority, just begin to flag up the growing threat to personalisation generally. How it is starting to feel different from those heady early days…
In many localities personal budgets are being cut. We hear stories of people unable to buy even the services they had before. Day centres closing but sometimes, instead of more interesting “mainstreamed” community activities, there is nothing in its place. I heard a father on the early morning news this week saying that he used to take his daughter to nursery, but it has closed. They used to go swimming, but the pool had closed – and now the library is under threat.
I also attended a social work conference where once again enthusiastic people gathered, wanting to learn and make progress. One of the opening speakers made clear “We are not here to talk about the cuts!” A rather academic overview of the sector and new frameworks and initiatives ensued.
But I spoke first hand to many social workers. I ran a Whose Shoes? workshop where there were great discussions – real discussions, discussions about how to keep being creative and deliver personalisation despite the cuts. Making best use of the money available. All as it should be.
But the cuts ARE affecting personalisation. Personalisation was always meant to make better use of money, to “think outside the box”. But the box is getting smaller. It IS time to talk about the cuts and give the public and front-line workers a realistic answer.
Is it “all about you” or, sadly, despite the best intentions, now is it “all about money”?
It is time for a really honest debate and some soul-searching.