In general, we support the idea behind the introduction of Individual Budgets. They empower people, and give back a degree of control over areas which were previously being controlled by well-meaning but distant social workers.
However... the scheme also gives significant responsibilities to people who are often unwise and vulnerable. The possible problems being created by this system are quite significant.
We are not alone in our concern. The following is taken from the Care Forum paper on this topic.
The Council for Disabled Children, an umbrella group covering a large number of major children's voluntary organisations, is leading the work on the government's Transition Support Programme. Programme director, Helen Wheatley, has expressed a reserved judgement on the potential of individual budgets, commenting that "unless you give families the tools and prepare them properly and make sure you have an infrastructure in place to support the individual budget, it's like giving somebody a Porsche and not checking whether they've got a driving licence first".
Businesses are gearing up to provide services directly to needy and vulnerable people. Their aim is to make money out of providing these services - quite reasonably. But who decides if what they are offering is actually what is needed (people are sold things they don't need all the time) or whether it is being offered at the appropriate level of cost and quality, and at the right time? Does the individual with the budget have to evaluate the competing offers (sales pitches) from competing companies?
Will the businesses offer binding estimates, or will they be able to provide a quote, do the work, and then claim they needed to do more so the price will be higher?
Will the businesses provide itemised invoices afterwards, to confirm that the work has been completed to the agreed specification, and to enable a comparison with other businesses for the next time the product or service is needed?
Will the terms and conditions in the contract be clear, simple, and available to the public for scrutiny?
It would be helpful if we could see a bit more of the larger picture.
What resources have been spent on introducing Individual Budgets?
Since various other funds have been pooled to make the IB money available, how has the question of restricted funds been handled? The whole point of the IB is that the individual can decide, for example, to spend the money on entertainment rather than healthcase, but what if the money is coming from a pot which was set up to provide healthcare?
And what has happened to the idea that we should target our limited resources on those with the greatest needs? Instead of a Social Worker having a budget and deciding which of the needy people they work with will most benefit from the services on offer, each of the individuals is given their own budget. The whole principle behind the IB is that the individual is given the right to spend a certain amount of money. But this presumably means that they are more likely to spend it on something they want, when in the previous system they may have decided not to take up the offer of the statutory service. More people spending money must mean there is less money for everyone, so less for the most needy. Or is there some hidden mechanism for countering this problem?