In 2005 the council took part in a project piloting individual budgets. Feedback from the older people and staff who took part was so positive that when the pilot finished last year it was decided to continue with the system.
Under the system, older people or their chosen relatives set up bank accounts into which the council pays a monthly sum. Beneficiaries receive the cash after an assessment that takes account of their needs. They are then able to shop around for the best packages of care, and may, for example, decide to spend more on help with food or a cleaner.
Margaret Guest is the council’s strategic manager for commissioning and policy development, leading on implementing self-directed support in West Sussex for adults. She says some older people say the service has “completely transformed their lives”.
“They talk about being able to have normal relationships with their families again because they can choose to pay carers rather than having to rely on, say, their partners,” she says. Care providers also say they enjoy being able to provide a more personal service, which fits in with older people’s needs, rather than having to stick to a strict timetable.
But with more personal control come responsibilities and, as last month’s evaluation of the pilots by university research units showed, older people did not find the individual budget system as easy to use as other groups on the scheme.
However, Ms Guest believes the council avoids this problem by taking a partnership approach to supporting older people. Support to help them manage budgets is also available from the Independent Living Association , which champions the interests of disabled people in West Sussex.
Individual budgets require staff to make a “huge cultural shift” because they are used to managing services, Ms Guest says. “But by giving up control they are helping to give people a much improved quality of life.”