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Resource Allocation System (RAS)

Author: Simon Duffy

A Resource Allocation System (RAS) is any set of rules that allows fair allocations to be made to people who need extra support. The development of Individual Budgets depended upon the use of a RAS that enabled such an allocation to be made before the person had to decide how to spend their allocation.

Background

The idea of a Resource Allocation System (RAS) is essentially simply, although it has been subject to a great deal of variation in implementation. A RAS works by connecting a particular level of need with a particular level of money. The idea that rules can be used to make fair allocations of resources is not new. It is how the tax and benefit systems work, it is how the courts define entitlements according to principles of natural justice and many international systems use formal rules to distribute funding to people who need support. The development of a Resource Allocation System (RAS) in the UK was only innovative because this approach had never been used to set social care entitlements nor to make these entitlements explicit, that is, to underpin Individual Budgets.

The idea of an Individual Budget was first developed and tested in Scotland by Simon Duffy in 1996. However it was the In Control programme that first persuaded local authorities to try using a formal Resource Allocation System for all social care budgets. The early success of this approach led to increasing levels of support from disabled people, local government and finally from central government. The initial model, developed by Simon Duffy was then amended by John Waters, proposed the application of a points based system for calculating need. This enabled a whole range of further approaches which have enabled progressively more sophisticated and elaborate accounts of need and how such needs are related to funding.

However this system is meant to be framed by professional judgement and an overview of the effectiveness of the budget. An allocation that won't enable people to meet their needs is inadequate - whether or not the RAS specifies that it 'should' be adequate. There has been a worrying tendency for the RAS to supplant professional judgement and to undermine legal entitlements.

A RAS not only allocates limited funds but also enables the community to define what is reasonable and to change the level of funding available if needs are or are not being met. However the more inhuman, complex or opaque the RAS the more difficult it becomes for people to trust the outputs of the system.

Entitlements

It has been noted by Luke Clements that the development of the RAS has been within a legal and policy vacuum. And of course identifying the right level of money for a need depends upon the principles that you use to make the allocation. In other words it depends upon what we mean by ‘right’. 

Simon Duffy has proposed that the central principle should be one of sufficiency:

People should be entitled to enough help to ensure that they can be full citizens.

However there is no clear entitlement to such support in English law on this or any other basis. In addition there are some other important principles that will need to be established if the current systems are to be made fair.

Needs

We can further note that our account of what enough means then depends on being able to identify a need. On this account need involves an account of what is involved in citizenship and the degree to which people will need help to achieve those outcomes. However others accounts of need may focus on ideas like well-being, reasonable levels of risk, independence or whatever. However, although this debate is important if we want to try and set constitutional rules for social systems, it may be less important if we simply want to see more competent and empowering social systems. In which case we simply want any reasonable account that can obtain a degree of sustainable public support.

Prevention

People should be entitled to support if that support is necessary to help them avoid a higher level of need in the future. This suggests that it is a mistake to base entitlements upon their ‘urgency’ or ‘critical’ status. This is to build inflationary incompetence into the system - delaying entitlements until they are unnecessarily high, damaging and costly. In England the current system of Fair Access to Care Services seems perversely unfair and incompetent in exactly this way.

Equity

One of the obvious advantages of any explicit rules is that it can enable improved equity - treating the same need in the same way. But this also raises some complex questions. In particular it is important that people have the same understanding of need. In the UK one of the most peculiar features of the welfare state is that for many important needs we assume that needs should be defined without reference to our income or other important factors, like how supportive our family is. However, for some services - especially support for disabled people - we do carry out extreme means-testing and we radically reduce support available to people with family support. This is targeted taxation.

In adult social care for example the current system has two forms of additional targeted taxation:

  • Tax on income - people who have even quite modest incomes, pensions or savings find that they face charges (taxes) in order to receive services or lose all entitlement. In other words someone who has spend their whole life contributing to the welfare state can find they are entitled to nothing just when they really need help.
  • Tax on family - people also find that they are quietly taxed on the level of family support they receive. People who have strong families who stick together through thick and thin find that this counts against them so that even someone with very high support needs - if they have a loving family - can be entitled to nothing (because they are not in crisis).

It is interesting to note that this whole approach is contrary to the principles of natural justice as they have been realised in the English legal system for years. If you acquire a disability and can make a claim then the court recognises that what is fair is determined by the cost of the impact of the disability - there is no reduction for people with higher incomes or stronger families. Although we expect universal services where they directly benefit middle-earners and swing voters we do not expect a universal approach for small minority groups - even if their needs are greater and the demands of social justice more stringent.


The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.

Resource Allocation System (RAS) © Simon Duffy 2012.

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.