Social care provision for older or disabled people is at the forefront of government reforms. The government has this year started what it calls the “personalisation” of services.
Under the Putting People First scheme individuals assessed as qualifying for social care are given an allowance to spend as they choose – for example on employing carers or organising supported activities.
The new scheme has been promoted as giving service users greater control, more dignity, and more choice.
It is hailed as part of a wider shift in government thinking on welfare provision, which wants to see similar arrangements across health and social services.
The idea that people should have more say in their services and in the care package they receive is, of course, a very good one.
Many service user groups have been fighting for this for many years.
However, there are serious drawbacks with the scheme.
The ability of an individual to spend their allowance how they choose relies on those services being available.
As public services are run down, “choice” increasingly means hoping the local market can offer private care options.
Most importantly, the move reflects New Labour’s move from state provision to individual responsibility and the private sector.
It sits neatly alongside the way New Labour ministers repeatedly attack those supposedly “dependent” on disability and unemployment benefits.
It is a model that relies on further privatisation and the fragmentation of services.
Personalising services doesn’t deal with the central problem – that access to state-funded care is being cut and restricted.
Personalised allowances will only be available to those who have already been assessed as in need of care.
The scheme is in effect an extension of the “direct payments” scheme that has been open to older people since 2000.
Direct payments enable those assessed as needing social care to buy their own care package if they choose.
It is not a popular option – only around 2 percent of the 650,000 eligible older people in England have taken up this scheme.
There is no solution to the care problem without expanding entitlement, access and funding.