Detailed research in a London borough has provided new evidence that giving disabled people control over their own support funding has a significantly positive effect on their lives.
But a user-led organisation that took part in the research says more must to be done to ensure disabled and older people have the information and support they need to benefit fully from “self-directed support” (SDS).
The research on the impact of SDS – in which people receive council funding in the form of personal budgets to spend as they choose – was carried out by Richmond council and Richmond Users Independent Living Scheme (RUILS), a user-led organisation that provides support to people receiving direct payments and those going through the SDS process.
A series of in-depth interviews by RUILS found that personal budgets had a positive effect on people’s control over their lives, how they spend their time, and their relationships with family and friends. But there was a less marked impact on work and volunteering.
Further council monitoring of 90 people since last August found just four reported any negative impact caused by using personal budgets, while more than half reported improvements in at least four of eight areas.
Cathy Maker, chief executive of RUILS, said the results showed that “if it is done well and with the right support, SDS can be a very positive thing for a lot of people”.
But she warned that some people who were previously receiving direct payments and have now moved over to SDS have seen their budgets cut. Council social care budgets were “getting tighter” and the council was reluctant to increase individuals’ personal budgets, she added.
But she said RUILS had helped people look beyond social services money and make the most of their budgets by accessing community resources and voluntary sector services.
And she criticised the Care Quality Commission for judging councils on how many people they moved onto personal budgets, rather than the difference SDS makes to their quality of life.
This causes pressure to draw up people’s support plans quickly, rather than concentrating on good quality plans.
Richmond council said the research showed a need for improved access to information, advice and advocacy on how to make the most of personal budgets, and further work on the barriers to paid jobs and volunteering.
Richmond says it is one of only six councils spending more than 10 per cent of its adult and community services budget on personalised services.
15 March 2010