Elderly and disabled ‘to take charge of own social care by 2013’

Up to a million elderly and disabled people are to be put in charge of choosing their own social care, it was announced today.

“Personal budgets” are to be awarded to all those entitled to support by 2013, Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said.

They will allow people who receive social care provision from their local authority to decide for themselves how to spend the money they are entitled to.

The amounts involved range from a few hundred pounds to tens of thousands of pounds.

While the idea was introduced in 1996, only about 250,000 of the one million people eligible currently have them.

Mr Burstow, a Liberal Democrat, said the move supported the coalition Government’s vision of “the Big Society”.

“Personal budgets can make an incredible difference to people’s lives. They give people choice, control and independence,” he said.

“They look to people, not the state, to shape services, and improve outcomes, making a reality of the Big Society.

“I want councils to provide everyone eligible with a personal budget by 2013.”

Mr Burstow also announced that the Government was to spend £400 million over the next four years to pay for carers to take breaks – a key Lib Dem manifesto pledge.

The entitlement to personal budgets was set out in the Government’s proposal, “A Vision for Adult Social Care”, published today.

The document does not address the highly contentious issue of long-term funding, however, which is subject to an independent commission review expected to report next summer.

Mr Burstow said the Government had listened to concerns about pressures on social care budgets and had responded with an additional £2 billion by April 2014.

“We’ve listened, we’ve understood and we’ve acted in terms of the settlement we’ve put forward,” he said.

David Rogers, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said personal budgets were a “key part” of the fundamental reform town halls wanted.

“Being able to make them available for anyone who wants one can only be a good thing,” he said.

“But the challenge of Britain’s ageing population is huge and councils are under massive financial strain having to tackle 28% budget cuts.

“The extra money for adult social care received in the Comprehensive Spending Review was much-needed, but town halls still anticipate a potential multibillion pound shortfall.

“This leaves serious questions about the funding to meet these Whitehall targets.

“We also need a shift of emphasis from providing care to prolonging independence through better public health, leisure and transport schemes, more adaptable housing and new technologies, as well as individuals and groups being supported to get involved in caring for their neighbours.”

The head of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services said the long-term funding situation needed “resolution”.

“We feel that we need a resolution to the long-term position, because everyone agrees that the present system is not sustainable,” Richard Jones said.

He added that the current system was increasingly becoming a “safety net” for those with the greatest needs.

“We need to find a way of levering more resource into the care and support system given the demographics and the challenges we are aware of,” he said.

But Mr Jones added that local government leaders were “realistic” and could press ahead with the move to provide personal budgets.

“Councils can get going with this – personalisation for instance isn’t about the amount of money that sits in the system, it’s about how we operate, it’s the culture, it’s the behaviour, it’s the approach that we are expecting frontline staff, other partners, to adopt when they work with people as citizens.

“We will have to make tough decisions, but that won’t prevent us moving this agenda forward.”

Unison warned that the coalition Government was “dressing up cuts” and claimed that moving to personal budgets would disadvantage vulnerable people.

Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social care, said: “It’s easy to sit in Whitehall and say councils shouldn’t cut eligibility when at the same time you are forcing through record cuts in council spending.

“Many people will now not even be eligible for a personal budget, let alone any care services, and elderly people with conditions like dementia, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes face losing home support, even if they are unable to carry out basic personal care.

“The care system is a nightmare for families to navigate.

“Without the option of directly provided services, people may not know whether the budget they are allocated is fair and councils could freeze people’s budgets, or start cutting them as the funding squeeze tightens.”

Age UK also expressed concern that personal budgets – and particularly the idea of direct cash payments to individuals – could put some vulnerable people at risk.

Charity director Michelle Mitchell said: “The personalisation of care budgets is a welcome step forward in allowing greater choice to those older people able to manage their own care.

“However the heavy emphasis in the report on moving people on to receiving direct cash payments to pay for care concerns us as many older people have said that they don’t necessarily want to have to become employers of their carers or to have to shop around for provision.”

Ms Mitchell also said Age UK was “not convinced” about the Government’s approach to safeguarding older people from abuse.

The Princess Royal Trust for Carers welcomed the £400 million for respite breaks but warned that it might not be used for its intended purpose as it is not ringfenced.

Chief executive Carole Cochrane said: “Without these vital breaks, carers can often reach breaking point where they can no longer continue, and their own physical and mental health deteriorates as result.

“However we are concerned that the money in today’s announcement has not been ringfenced, as in the past, money earmarked for carers’ breaks has been spent elsewhere.

“In 2009-10 and 2010-11, £150 million was pledged for carers’ breaks, but our research found that most primary care trusts failed to spend the money on carers and instead used it elsewhere.”