Social care recipients to control their personal budgets

The government will tomorrow announce it is to give everyone who uses social care services control of their own budgets, enabling them to tailor the service.

The Lib Dem minister for care, Paul Burstow, will announce the expansion of personal budgets in social care from November. He hopes it will demonstrate clear Liberal principles, allowing patients total autonomy, to the party faithfuls concerned at broader top down reforms of the NHS.

Personal budget users either receive direct cash payments or hand them over to a social care professional.

The Labour government brought in personal budgets and 13% of the care budget is allocated in this way, reaching 168,000 patients. But Burstow wants a total rollout and hopes to extend personalised budgets to non-critical health care as the government ends the “one-size-fits-all” NHS.

Downing Street wants to encourage service users to think laterally about treatments. Burstow said: “What we’re going to be saying is that it’s not about spending more money. It’s about focusing on what matters. If they want to spend £350 on a laptop and that allows them to reconnect with their friends if they have a disability and have not been able to leave the house – we recognise it’s the small things which make a huge difference.”

“With carers, if they want a break – say, they want to have their hair done for half an hour, then this allows them to carry on their life along with their caring role.

“If they are eligible, meet criteria and part of their need is actually to get out and that means getting a taxi to the cinema, fine. It comes back to the notion of whether you think people have personal autonomy. As a Liberal, I don’t believe we should be prescribing the choice of people’s lives.

Burstow insists that overhead costs are no greater and the scheme will be revenue neutral, but acknowledges the overall pot of money will be reduced during the forthcoming comprehensive spending review from its current £16bn.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies believe the social care budget could be cut by 33% over the next spending period.

Burstow says he knows some councils are “preparing to slash and burn social care budgets” and urges them to be cautious before they do so. He also acknowledges the plan could be controversial but says: “Local authorities have to manage the risk between the screeching headline and the ability of people to manage their lives.”

The policy may encounter difficulties. A Demos report last year estimated that 80% of social care and health users did not understand personal budgets.