That’s it. I give up. I hereby put on record that I have absolutely no idea how direct payments/personal budgets/individual budgets/FACS budgets actually work. Are they as completely random as they seem to me?
I keep reading wonderful stories in the press and online of how people use their budgets in extremely “creative” ways. I keep seeing events advertised that promote the “innovative” use of budgets. Personalisation is where it’s at man, and your budget will open doors that have remained firmly shut up until now. Last week I read the story of the young autistic man who loves going to war reenactment events and used his budget to attend them across the country and pay for a support worker to accompany him. They applied to use their budget to buy a camper van to save on the hotel bills. The whole story was presented through the prism of a real personalisation success story. There is an “Inclusion” group on Facebook who regularly post stories of using their budgets for big adventures – canoeing weekends in Iceland (the country, not the shop); ballet dancing lessons; season tickets to watch their favourite teams.
I read these stories with a degree of incredulity because they run alongside stories of people who cannot a budget at all, or people (like myself) for whom the budget is rigidly controlled by the LA. It may because I’ve been programmed over the years by Hillingdon but I also feel a trifle uneasy about the money being spent on white water rafting holidays. I don’t feel uneasy about the person having the holiday, or spending their personal budget on the holiday. BUt surely, the holiday is a one off – what do they do for the rest of the year? How are they supported? What does the rest of their week look like if the budget is going on one weekend activity?
Regardless of what the budgets are used for, there seems to be a hugely inconsistent way in which they are calculated. My LA calculates its direct payments using an hourly rate – £10.72 an hour. That is fine if you are using the budget to pay for a support worker and pay them by the hour. BUt the purchase of a camper van doesn’t come in hourly rate packages – one van: one price. So, do the ballet dancers get one amount to cover the cost of support to their classes and then a further amount to pay for the class itself. If not, how is it worked out?
There is also a confusing inconsistency within the same LAs. Steven started receiving direct payments towards the end of his time in Children’s services. He was allocated 6 hours per week (approx £63). We employed a support worker for three hours a week to take Steven to the Mencap Pool on a Friday night. This was at the time, shortly after going onto medication that Steven’s weight started shooting up. I asked his social worker if I could use the other £30 to pay for a personal trainer for Steven. I still have his written reply, that this was “an excellent, imaginative use of resources”. Fast forward two years and Steven was “transitioned” into adult services, where I was told in no uncertain terms that direct payments could not be used to fund a personal trainer. It was quite threatening actually, with the slight hint that I had been defrauding them for the previous two years.
The same thing happened a couple of years ago. We were in the middle of their respite game, where Hillingdon were insisting that the only respite option they would consider funding was the place where Steven had been unlawfully deprived of his liberty the year before. During the protracted game, I used a tiny amount from the direct payment budget to pay a support worker to do an overnight shift once a fortnight, enabling me to have two nights a month off. My knuckles were rapped again and I was told “the budget hadn’t been agreed for this purpose, nor would it be agreed for this purpose”. The budget was immediately reduced by three hours per week.
The bottom line is that my experience of direct payments in Hillingdon is that they are rigidly calculated and controlled and can only ever be used to purchase the services of a support worker. As a wheeze, I am tempted to tell them that I am reducing Steven’s “community support ratio” from 2:1 to 1:1 and using the saved money to purchase a Winnebago. Just to see how outraged their reaction will be.
Because of the rigid adherence to calculating budgets using an hourly rate, I get very confused during the “Fairer Access to Care Services Assessment”. The focus in the assessment is on need – not on a timetable. We’ve not been RASd yet but I know the council have calibrated (?) their resource allocation system using the current direct payments rates. It will be interesting to see how the identified needs are converted into a budget using the same payment rates as have been used for years. Surely, as Steven’s needs haven’t significantly changed, his new personal budget should come out at exactly the same amount as his old budget. Somehow, I don’t think it will be like that! And that brings me back again to how the camper van requests are fed into this process. In the highly unlikely event that Hillingdon identified a camper van as a need, I can’t begin to see how the RAS will cope with converting the cost of the van into the overall budget. I suspect this may be a mission for Panel.
Lastly, from our research for the Carers Solidarity group last year, it transpired that some LAs are awarding carers a direct payment following a carers assessment. On the whole, they tended to be small, one off payments (or as one commentator put it – “buy you off payments”) for things like “pampering days”. Treats rather than needs. I’m not entirely convinced that a carers assessment is even remotely interested in identifying a need – it seems to have an altogether different purpose. I’d be very interested to hear from any carer who has received a regular direct payment for themselves – what was the need that was identified? How was it calculated?
So, as I said at the beginning, I am retiring from trying to make sense of the whole personal budget business. Not because it is too complicated – but because it is haphazard. As I’ve shown, there are different rules within the same authority, so it’s pointless trying to compare schemes across the country.
Rant over. I’m off to “We Buy Any Car Dot Com” to check out their latest in camper vans. And if I get one, I might just christen it Priscilla.