While I was carrying out the government's review into Barriers to Choice, one of the more peculiar aspects of the whole confusing choice agenda, is finding precisely what has been happening to personalisation.
word choice is still embattled. I sat
with one group of doctors during the review who just stayed silent with their
arms crossed in protest against the whole idea.
But ‘personalisation’ has always had the support of people and
problem is that every time the innovations are rolled out that genuinely have
some chance to give power to disabled people over how the money is spent to
help them – local authorities so often move to undermine it.
are huge exceptions to this, and councils which have really run with the
idea. But many local authorities have
systematised the labyrinthine procedures, and have surrounded the business of
providing direct payments and personal budgets with expensive bureaucracy,
clawing back percentages as a matter of policy, adding approval committees and long
lists of no-go areas or limiting choice using preferred supplier lists.
result is that a big idea designed to give responsibility back to people on
benefits - and to save money in bureaucracy at the same time – does neither in
struggled with the question of how to free up procedures, and help council
officials to be a little less risk averse, given that the vast expense almost
certainly outweighs the savings. Setting
out the intentions in legislation seemed unlikely to really break the log-jam
since it is already set out pretty clearly, and that doesn't make a difference.
The way forward, I believe, is to signpost anyone claiming direct
payments to where they can get advice – so that some of these extra-legal
restrictions can be challenged. In other words, by giving power to the people claiming money to insist.
is also high time that these preferred supplier lists were phased out. Councils should be able to have lists of
their own suppliers – that is fine – but not use them to limit the way that people on
direct payments can spend their money.
That locks people into suppliers who they may not like and who may not
be able to provide them with the flexibility they need – and flexibility seems
to me what choice is really about.
I was so pleased to see a joint letter from a group of innovative disability
organisations urging the Department of Health to back those recommendations in
crossed on that.