Simon DuffyA joint initiative between a service provider and a local authority to personalise community-based services for people with learning disabilities improved service users’ quality of life and delivered significant savings, an independent report has concluded.

The report, Better Lives, published by The Centre for Welfare Reform in association with Bucks New University Social and Health Evaluation Unit, looked at the personalisation programme run by service provider Choice Support and the London Borough of Southwark adult services.

It examined the impact of the programme, which was implemented between 2010 and 2014, to break down a large traditional block contract of more than £6 million into 83 Individual Service Funds (ISFs) – which treat each person’s budget as if it were their own money and working with them to get the best possible value from it – with person centred plans (PCPs). The report found it achieved savings of £1.79 million (29.75%) over a 4-year period, compared to the cost of the block contract. 

In addition, independent research by Bucks New University found that there have been on-going improvements in the quality of life for most of the 70 service users who were surveyed. For instance, the majority of respondents said the person had more control over their finances and their direction of their lives, could act more independently and was generally happier. In addition, the majority of respondents said the person’s support was more effective.

Choice Support achieved this by working flexibly with the people they support to use their personal budget in more creative ways that traditional service commissioning would allow.

This success has been achieved against a backdrop of swingeing local authority budget cuts since 2010, which has impacted heavily on social care.

The report recommended that Choice Support roll this approach out to other commissioners. It also recommended that the minority of unfavourable responses be followed up to learn why and make improvements as a result.

“There is no doubt that the Personalisation Programme introduced by Choice Support in partnership with the London Borough of Southwark can be judged a success,” said Professor Roger Ellis OBE, lead author of the report. “For the majority of the 70 individuals the introduction of ISFs linked with personalised support plans has improved their quality of life. This has been achieved with a substantial net saving over the previous block grant scheme. There have been no increased risks that we could find and both staff and relatives have a generally positive view of the Programme and its impact on individuals.”

Dr Simon Duffy (pictured), director of the Centre for Welfare Reform who invented the concept of an ISF, added: “Choice Support and Southwark Council are to be congratulated. They have demonstrated the enormous potential of a more flexible and trusting way of working. It’s time to step away from old models of contracting, procurement, tendering and top-down control. Instead we must focus on the individual, on what they really need, so that we can enable families, friends and professionals to work with them to achieve citizenship and control. Hopefully this report will mark the beginning of a sea change in social care in England: the end of an era of organisational mistrust and increased centralisation; the start of a greater focus on citizenship and community, with greater faith in the integrity of civil society to lead positive change from the grassroots up.”