Guest blogger, Kaye Wiggins, finds a more concrete policy in Lambeth’s cooperative council plans
You can picture the tabloid headlines already, can’t you? As part of its plan to become a co-operative council, Lambeth is going to give direct payments to more and more of the people that use its services, to spend as they choose.
This could include haircuts, horse riding lessons, presents for their children and even going to the pub, according to a recent report about the plan.
Giving money directly to people, rather than spending it on services they can use, is part of the ‘personalisation’ agenda, a key part of the council’s plan to go co-op.
The report, called Survive and Thrive and published last month by the council and the charity representatives’ group Acevo, says this agenda will be extended in future, and will cover services including health, social care, criminal justice, welfare to work, education, children’s services and substance abuse.
Under the plan, the council will fund charities and community groups that will let the people using their services decide on how their problems could best be addressed.
If a person’s situation could best be helped by rebuilding their self-confidence, and that person decides that a haircut or horse riding is the best way to do it, then they can choose for the money to be spent in this way.
“Anything should be possible as long as it is legal and it contributes towards achieving a mutually agreed outcome,” the report says.
It gives the example of a supported housing association in Tower Hamlets, called Look Ahead Housing and Care, which used funding from the council to give service users £40 a week to spend however they liked.
It says one used the money to buy presents for her children, another had her hair styled and another “used it at a pub as a way of making contact with a local darts team”.
The report says: “Although this was initially challenging for staff, these activities reconnected those living at Coventry Road with the local community, developed skills in communication and social awareness and, ultimately, began making the believe there was a route to recovery.”
It looks as though more and more of the council’s services will be provided in this way as it progresses with its co-operative plans. There’s a stark warning in the report for organisations that don’t deliver personalised services: “It is essential that they do not rely on on-going support from Lambeth, the PCT or other statutory agencies which are committed to a new commissioning model based on personalisation.”
This might become the biggest way in which Lambeth residents are affected by the co-op council agenda. The plan to go co-operative has been criticised for being a big idea that local residents struggle to see the relevance of – but here, at least, is a concrete policy.
I think the personalisation agenda will become more challenging over time, as more people participate in it, and surely more questions will be asked over what is appropriate. Having worked for Social Services in the past much talk was on the use on Individual Budgets for paying for sex (rather than the more anodyne ‘football season ticket’ as all the promotional literature referred to again and again). As far as the law goes this is of course legal, but the ethical debate can rage on with valid arguements on both sides.
Then of course theres the whole social equality side. Will the greatest beneficiaries of personalisation be those who are able to top up with their own resources? Let’s not forget that block-purchased services are a way of keeping costs down and mean that everyone (except those rich enough to opt-out) receives services of equal value.
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