An Apology

Author: Simon Duffy

Since establishing The Centre for Welfare Reform in 2009 I have been able to work and think with other people about some of the judgements I made in the past. And, I believe I should make a written apology for two mistakes that are having increasingly negative consequences:

  1. Complex Resource Allocation Systems (RAS) - using questionnaires, points, weightings and formulas to calculate a fair budget
  2. Support Plans - which are now being abused and which are undermining the autonomy of disabled people and families

The Complex RAS

I continue to think that knowing your budget, as soon as possible, is a useful way of enabling you to take more direct control over your own life and your own supports. It promotes autonomy, creativity and a rightful sense of entitlement.

However this does not require a Complex RAS. 

The reason that we started to develop a Complex RAS was primarily because senior managers said directly or indirectly “we don’t trust our social workers to make judgements about what is fair and reasonable”.

I feel particularly guilty about this because I know that when people with more power say that they do not trust those with less power, this is never because those with less power are not trustworthy. Rather, it is because of the incompetence of those with more power. Yet, in the desire to get individual budgets into the hands of disabled people and families, I supported the development of increasingly more complex versions of the RAS.

Sceptics rightly pointed to the likely problems:

  • The process would disempower social workers and service providers
  • The process would keep breaking - it was too ambitious
  • The process would be used to disguise unfair cuts and cap budgets
  • Local authorities would not show how they did their calculations
  • The process would not empower disabled people and families

Time has shown that the sceptics were right. These problems grew as local authorities started to adopt these approaches unthinkingly, without reference to the value of social work or to human rights. These problems further accelerated in 2010, as the new government imposed its 25% cut on social care, and as authorities began to use any tool possible to make these unfair cuts.

Today the Complex RAS is a disaster area. The only sensible approach is to go back to basics and to help social workers set budgets in ways that are clear, legal and in tune with the basic principles of the social work profession.

The current cuts to social care are unjust and will only cause deep and painful problems. They need to be resisted by every means possible. The Complex RAS is not a solution; it is just a distraction.

The Support Plan

I invented the concept of a Support Plan in North Lanarkshire in 2000 when developing an early version of self-directed support. 

The idea was invented to resolve a problem that was created by the system itself:

  1. People could not take control of their funding unless there was a Care Plan, and 
  2. the Care Plan had to be completed by the Care Manager. 

So, at the time, I thought a good solution was to propose:

  1. The person produce their own Support Plan 
  2. then the Care Manager could just sign it off 
  3. and so the Support Plan became the Care Plan

This seemed like a clever solution to a sticky system problem. Little did I understand what would follow in its wake. 

Today there appears to be a whole industry dedicated to a series of absurd propositions:

  • Disabled people need plans even when the rest of us get on fine without them
  • Disabled people should plan their whole life out and be made to stick to it
  • Disabled people need support planners, brokers and facilitators in order to plan
  • Disabled people need their plans checked by panels of local authority managers

This is all crazy. At best, a person’s plan is just one way of getting some rather limited evidence that the person, or their representative, is able to manage their own budget and can be trusted to get on with living their life.

After that the plan should be thrown in the bin where it belongs. Local authorities have no more right to plan for a disabled person than they have for any other citizen.

Solving the wrong problem

The Complex RAS and the Support Plan were solutions to the wrong problem.

The Complex RAS was the solution to a problem that only existed because of a failure of trust within social care - solving it only made the basic problem greater - increasing the centralisation of power and a sense of mutual mistrust.

The Support Plan was a solution to a problem that only existed because the policy of requiring a Care Plan was flawed - solving it only maintained the illusion that a document, sitting in a local authority computer system or filing cabinet, is a guarantee of good support. The creation of Support Plans simply opened the door to further waste and paternalism.

So, how do we move forward?

To make progress we have to try and do several things at the same time:

  • Avoid solving false problems, problems that are not real but are just symptoms of a flawed system
  • Keep innovating, finding simpler and more respectful solutions to real problems
  • Challenge injustice, don't accept unfair cuts or damaging policies
  • Build community, share our ideas and be prepared to listen, learn and change

The Centre for Welfare Reform will continue to try and make a positive contribution to building a fairer society. Our social work project draws together many of our current ideas on how to do things better. We would welcome any new ideas on how to tackle real problems and challenge injustice.


The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

An Apology © 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.

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