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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Self-directed care - reality doesn't always match the rhetoric

Self-directed care is right in principle, but does not always match with the reality of care provision in Scotland today. The rhetoric of choice and control is often used as cover for a deteriorating service.

The Self-Directed Care (Scotland) Act comes into force today and requires local authorities to offer personal payments if requested. I was interviewed by the BBC today on the impact this legislation will have on care in Scotland.

This approach works well for some service users, but can be an unnecessary burden for others. We should therefore be careful not to turn this into another one-size fits all approach to social care. UNISON signed a joint statement as far back as 2006 with the Scottish Personal Assistant Employer Network supporting direct payments while recognising that this approach should not be used a cover for cuts. However, by 2012 it was becoming clearer that assessments were focused on making savings rather than delivering better care. We illustrated these concerns with case studies in our report, ‘Personalisation in Scotland – The Facts’.

Today, cuts in budget provision means that the individual service user often has a smaller budget to buy equivalent services. This has contributed to the ‘race to the bottom’ in home care as highlighted in UNISON Scotland’s recent ‘Time to Care’ report. Staff, often paid little more than the minimum wage, on zero-hours contracts, with little training, are literally running about trying to provide the same service.

Many service users don’t understand or want the responsibilities of being an employer. As a consequence the service is being privatised with agencies providing the staff rather than the envisaged genuine personalised service. With budget cuts service users are being forced to choose a cut price ‘personalised’ service that is short on quality.

Self-directed support is leading to cuts in collective provision, such as day centres. This leads to greater social isolation that we know has a damaging impact on health. Social isolation is associated with a higher risk of death in older people regardless of whether they consider themselves lonely. A study of 6,500 UK men and women aged over 52 found that being isolated from family and friends was linked with a 26% higher death risk over seven years. Our home care members report that they are often the only living person some elderly people see in days. All the more reason to allow more time to care.

There is also no legislative requirement that a personal employer checks for Protection of Vulnerable Groups Scheme membership. Our discussions with home care staff indicated that many would be reluctant to raise care abuse concerns, particularly when they are employed on zero-hour contracts. Given the disparate nature of this service it is difficult for councils and regulators to check on the quality of care in the same way as they do in residential settings.

Overall, self-directed care is still right in principle and works well for some groups of service user. However, it isn’t suitable for everyone and has some big downsides, particularly when budgets are under financial strain.

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