Guest Blog ~ Personalisation – the challenges for social work by Simon Duffy
I first met Simon when he accepted an invitation to speak at the Social Workers Educational Trust conference. “Being Inspired by Social Work”. A big thank you to Simon for sharing his thoughts following the Personalisation Conference held in London on the 21st May 2010.
“If we can each work together, accepting our weaknesses, we can make things happen.”
Thus spoke the social worker, reflecting on the tensions that can flare up between those who want to help other people and those they are trying to help. These words beautifully captured the spirit of Friday’s conference, at the Tavistock, on personalisation and social work. The conference organised by Skills for Care, in partnership with the Department of Health and the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust Foundation, focused on exploring changes in the role and responsibilities of the social work practitioner within transformed adult services.
The event had “hope and purpose”, but it also revealed an array of challenges that face social workers who try to make sense of ‘personalisation’ – a word which is full of meaning and unmeaning. It is hard to remember the purpose of all these personalisation ‘technologies’ (direct payments, individual budgets, self-directed support, peer support etc.). It is very hard to recall, amidst the consultants, government milestones, and official guidance, that these ideas didn’t start in government. These new ways of working were developed by disabled people and by social workers. And they were developed in order to take forward the ambition of social work – to achieve social justice.
Keeping a focus on social justice is hard, but it is essential when it comes to making sense of all the new processes associated with personalisation. Many social workers described the insanity they face working in a system which asks them to keep running the old bureaucratic system, while also setting up and running the new system. Processes are becoming more confused and over elaborate, and they are damaging our ability to respond quickly and sensitively to people’s needs. Sometimes ‘personalisation’ is leading to less personalisation.
Senior managers need to protect their staff from this chaos; but they are struggling to make sense of the overall policy direction. How deep and serious is the government’s commitment to personalisation when these new systems are developed in ways which lack any legal, financial and policy coherence. It is easy to suspect that a system which is being developed without any clear and rational plan will, in time, fade away.
But progress is being made, despite the madness, and we must be optimistic – not because we can expect things to get better – but because we can each take responsibility for making the most of this opportunity to build a fairer world.
Simon Duffy Director of The Centre for Welfare Reform
There are a number of interesting publications which can be downloaded at www.centreforwelfarereform.org
About the author
Dr Simon Duffy is Director of the Centre for Welfare Reform. Simon created Individual Budgets, Self-Directed Support and the Citizenship Model and put these ideas into practice at Inclusion Glasgow and In Control. He was awarded the RSA’s 2008 Prince Albert Medal for his work on personalisation.