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Personal Budgets Just Mean Freedom

Author: Simon Duffy

This is the third of a series of short essays from Finland, where KVPS is leading work to develop the use of personal budgets in social care.

I am halfway through my 10 weeks of work with KVPS and I thought that this would be a good time to reflect on the whole purpose of personal budgets.

This year Finland is 99 years old as a free and independent country. Yet the Finns are an ancient people with a history and language going back thousands of years into pre-history. Finland understands the importance of freedom and also how long it can take to achieve it.

Personal budgets are simply a concrete form of freedom. The efforts of people with learning disabilities, their families and their allies to obtain this simple right to control their own support, to control their own destiny, is about achieving the kind of freedom that the rest of us take for granted. This may seem an extreme way of putting things, but I agree with Vassily Grossman who wrote:

“I used to think that freedom was freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of conscience. But freedom needs to include all of the lives of all of the people. Freedom is the right to sow what you want. It's the right to make shoes or coats, it's the right to bake bread from the grain you've sown and to sell it or not to sell it as you choose. The same goes for a locksmith or steelworker or an artist - freedom is the right to live and work as you wish and not as you're ordered to. But these days there's no freedom for anyone - whether you write books, whether you sow grain or whether you make boots.”

[Everything Flows, p. 89]

Grossman was talking about the way communism had choked freedom from the life of all under Soviet control - all in the name of justice and equality. Today we deny freedom to people with learning disabilities, and we have lots of good reasons and reasonable fears which we use as our excuse: What if people make mistakes? What will it mean for our jobs? What will it mean for social care services?

Sometimes we just make the whole thing so complicated. over the past few years I have been re-writing my book Keys to Citizenship, supported by my friend Wendy Perez, who has a learning disability. In my first version of Keys to Citizenship I named the first key to citizenship ‘self-determination’. This is a complex and philosophical word, not a word we use everyday. As Wendy and I thought about this word we wondered why not just use the word ‘freedom’. Everybody knows what freedom means, everybody knows what it means to lose it and why it is important.

Making freedom real isn’t always easy. Making freedom real for people with learning disabilities means:

  • Helping people use their voice when they may be scared
  • Listening and communicating to people who may not use words
  • Giving people information so they can understand what is possible
  • Letting people have control over decisions
  • Making sure there are systems in place to make decisions when necessary

Personal budgets are just one part of that freedom. They make sure that people do not have to sacrifice their freedom just to get help.

Freedom is not always easy and the fight for freedom can take a long time. But Finns know that it is worth while. And the benefits are much greater than just feeling free, the benefits of freedom include:

  • Creativity - the ability express ourselves and share who we are
  • Innovation - better solutions and better ways of living
  • Community - living together in a spirit of equality
  • Respect - being recognised as a full and equal citizen

In 2017 Finland will honour the many brave men and women who sacrificed their lives to keep Finland free. I hope also it will use this celebration to bring more freedom to the lives of those Finns who are still not really free today.

This article has been translated into Finnish and is available to read on KVPS's website here.


The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.

Personal Budgets Just Mean Freedom © Simon Duffy 2016.

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.