Charities should not forget that individual budgets empower people

Individual budgets and the wider personalisation agenda have been around for quite a while now. They have had a mixed journey, and at times they have been hijacked and presented as a panacea for the problems of the wide public services portfolio.

But one area where they have truly come into their own is social care services, in which the third sector is particularly strong. They are creating life-changing experiences for people who use these types of service.

If you know what individual budgets are, please bear with me, but it is important to explain here for those who have no idea. An increasing number of people who receive publicly funded social care services are being allocated funds they themselves can decide how to spend. This allocation is made after an assessment of the person’s needs but, crucially, they are given the choice of how to spend it. The key word here is ‘choice’.

Many of you reading this will take for granted the numerous daily, low-level choices you make about how you live the life you want. But if you have been historically strait-jacketed into a narrow menu of public services that are often so rigidly provided that independence is compromised, then you will understand, if only a little, how much freedom individual budgets can bring.

Just think about it. By allowing people to decide what time to go to bed, have dinner or even who gives them a bath, individual budgets can truly transform lives.

It is only recently that the sector has really woken up to the huge potential that exists in engaging constructively with individual budgets and, more importantly, using and even exploiting the changing dynamics of purchasing and commissioning to do what it does best: work effectively with beneficiaries.

The work Acevo is doing to train its members to engage effectively with the new purchasing dynamic is valuable. However, a nagging worry exists. As a user of social care services myself, I am aware not only of the struggle we have had to get to this point, but also of the liberating experience that the personalisation agenda can be in practice.

I want the sector to see individual budgets not as just another business opportunity, but as a chance to empower its beneficiaries. It is imperative that the essence of personalisation – people and power – remains paramount and is not unintentionally ‘stolen’ or compromised by the business and commercial agendas of charities. This would be in no one’s interests.