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What Went Wrong with Personalisation?

Author: Simon Duffy

This short article relates to another on the same theme that was published in the Guardian. It sets out what went wrong with personalisation and explores its unfulfilled potential.

Personalisation promised much, but today its reputation is tarnished. In theory personalisation gave people the chance to improve how their own needs were met, making better use of entitlements and any professional or community resources available. It was an approach that challenged the assumption that the system always knew best. Put simply, it was about life, not services.

But the implementation of personalisation has been fraught. All systems resist innovation; but innovation can also be undermined by the wrong kind of enthusiasm. Early models of good practice become the new status quo; new systems are created, but old systems remain unchanged. Fundamental questions about power and control don’t get asked.

Today personalisation faces a further challenge. As local government funding for social care is being cut by about 33% it’s natural that some will slip back in to the Poor Law mentality - services mustn’t appear too attractive, only the most critical needs can be met. This then justifies increasing control and monitoring.

This is ironic because the attraction of personalisation to policy-makers had been its efficiency - its ability to deliver improved outcomes at reduced cost. Primarily this efficiency occurs both because people can better determine what really matters to them and also because they can then use all their available resources - not just services - to meet their needs. Put simply, it’s more efficient to treat people like citizens, than as service users.

A second important efficiency is transactional, and this occurs when a partnership with citizens allows the system to make better use of its own limited resources. This kind of efficiency is consistent with high quality and empowering social work - flexible enough to build relationships with those who really need it, but also able to encourage people to do more for themselves.

Today much of this efficiency is untapped; people feel enmeshed in bureaucracy and social workers are under pressure to limit eligibility, cut budgets and process people through the system as quickly as possible. Local leaders who want to move forward and to build on the early successes of personalisation will need to explore what lies at the roots of these innovation and must think more deeply about their own role. For example, systems in social care for setting and managing budgets will need to be redesigned to increase clarity for citizens and professionals.

In the future the most important forms of support will come, not from the system, but from peers. PFG, in Doncaster has demonstrated that mutual support can dwarf anything that can be purchased with a personal budget. Yet this will also raises questions about how local government commissions. Community sourcing, not procurement, will become central to how local government works. The best local leaders will focus on individual rights and local neighbourhoods. It is encouraging to see places like Barnsley rethink their whole system of governance, helping neighbourhoods begin to fix their own problems.

The term personalisation is problematic - it sounds like a process that the services can do for themselves. But the real challenge is to rethink the purpose of our public services and to restore our sense that good local government is fundamentally about supporting citizenship and community self-governance.

Read the Guardian article here.


The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

What Went Wrong with Personalisation? © Simon Duffy 2014.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.