Plain and Simple – Personal Budgets are about having control

Today, we are really delighted to have a guest post from Nic Crosby from In-Control.  Personal Budgets are something many of us have heard about, a few of us have been offered them, but generally, in the words of Genesis, it's a Land of Confusion.  Here, Nic explains more about what they were set up to do and what some of the issues are around their introduction to EHC Plans.

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Background to Personal Budgets:

From the very start in Wigan in 2003, personal budgets (then ‘individual budgets’) were about the funding available to support young people that could be controlled by families. They were about shifting control from the local authority / health service to the person and those closest to them and giving them the chance to choose who, how and when they get the support they need. It was, and continues to be, a ‘values based approach’, it's about having control.

In Control work alongside families as well as many local authority and health services.  We’ve been leading work around shifting power via personal budgets since before they were a twinkle in government’s eye. We and those we’ve worked with, have sweated through endless debates over the best way to calculate personal budgets and what they can - and can't - be used for including; can people pay off loans, fund summer houses and the famous ‘buying a football club season ticket’. At all times thinking creatively about how best to get the support needed to transform people’s lives for the better.

Personal Budgets incontrol logo

Personal Budgets in a EHC Plan:

Personal budgets and their forerunner ‘individual budgets’ have always been about ‘people having control over funding to get the support they need’, i.e. the power shift.

This remains the working definition in social care and in health and it is no different for personal budgets for EHC Plans as set out in the Children and Families Act 2014 and repeated in the Code of Practice

A Personal Budget is an amount of money …where the parent or young person is involved in securing that provision (para 9.95)

The Code goes on to spell out how the parent or young person ‘can be involved in securing the provision’, how they can have control of both the use of the funding and how it is managed. Simple.

However, for some reason on our travels we frequently encounter approaches to personal budgets in education which bear little if any consistency with those in social care or health and where the ‘values base’ which has forever underpinned personal budgets is not so evident.

Values Based Approach:

This is not a blog about the legalities of provision and how it’s put together in a child or young person’s EHC Plan. This is a blog about the importance of a values based approach, values of control, informed decision and choice making, transparency and honesty with families.

Personal budgets are being set as whole cost analysis, parts of which families and young people are unlikely to ever have control over. Honesty and transparency with families is an essential part of having a respectful constructive relationship – something our work with the SEND pathfinders and other local authorities brought home to us time and time again and, I think, a key reason why the DfE placed requirements on local authorities to provide information on personal budgets in their Local Offer.

Families should be actively involved in discussions around all the support that children need in schools and support should be personalised to meet individual needs, but they can’t instruct a head teacher on how to use the school’s money whether that be core funding or part of the school’s budget for supporting pupils with SEN and/or disabilities.  That doesn’t mean to say that following discussion a head teacher with the family could think about how funding might be used differently and that includes releasing some as a personal budget.

Added to this, in many places, there seems to be the impression that all high needs funding (the additional funding for a child or young person with additional learning support needs identified in their EHC Plan above that which can be supported by the school) is a personal budget. The Code doesn’t say this – rather it points to the high needs funding as the source of funding for education elements of a personal budget, whilst recognising that high needs funding is also used to contract with services like speech and language therapy or to fund special schools where the head teacher has final say in how the funding is used….i.e. funding which cannot at present be ‘controlled’ by a young person or family in the sense that they can’t choose how it is managed or take it as a direct cash payment.

So for me and many others, it’s necessary to gain clarity about which bits families are able to directly control, able to dictate the spend or ask a provider service or school or college to manage or take the cash option via direct payments.

When we talk about personal budgets let us all remember what they have meant, do mean (see link to a set of case studies) and can mean for parents and young people, just as they do in social care and in health. This is so, so important if people are to explore the amazing potential of personal budgets, even if they are very small. We at In Control have been involved in some work offering families a personal budget of £200 and the outcomes have been fantastic, mainly down to the fact that families are supported to think really creatively about how to use the money. So don’t worry if in following through on a personal budget the amount is very small; that’s fine, at least everyone understands what it is, what it’s for and can then get on with thinking about how it can be used and managed.
Personal Budgets

So what does all this mean?

For families: when you are informed about your budget, seek out what is available as a personal budget, where you have can have direct control and direction over how it’s used and managed.

For services: think about this from a family or young person’s perspective; it means keeping things simple rather than big long lists of funding some of which can be this some of which can be that and some of which is inherently non-negotiable. If nothing else, work for a common definition across social care, health and with your adult service colleagues. Integration of funding and services is coming, think how confusing it will be, for both families and practitioners, if you have different definitions of personal budgets across different services. It will be helpful to split this into a) cost of whole care or a statement of resources and b) what's available for recipient control, the personal budget element.

Personal budgets can offer families and young people an opportunity to take control of some of the funding available for their child and as demonstrated in ever growing numbers of examples, have a very positive impact. Yet, they are in danger of losing their whole original purpose and they are becoming an administrative tool to simply identify funding and the individual cost of care. Families and young people understand that a personal budget is funding that they can have control over, so let us listen, be honest about what is available as a personal budget and get on with the really exciting bit... thinking about how it might be used.

With personal budgets as with the wider reforms, we have to take the opportunity to build an approach to support that is shaped by families, children and young people, which has a clear base of values, i.e. a very different approach to that experienced by families, children and young people for many years. We at In Control welcome the opportunity to work with ‘Justice Together’ and with many many others to put such an approach in place.

Thank you to Special Needs Jungle for inviting me to contribute.

For more information please contact [email protected] or visit our website 

Debs Aspland
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Debs Aspland

Exec Director at Bringing Us Together
Mum of 3, wife of 1, Exec Director of Bringing Us Together, Owner of Inspiring Circles, Writer of Chaos in Kent, Development - South at Community Circles
Debs Aspland
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