Friday, October 30, 2009

Trial and Error? South Australia announces introduction of Individualised Funding

On 28 October the South Australia government announced its arrangements for a cautious introduction of Individualised Funding (also known as self-directed funding). Unfortunately, despite the wealth of experience and wisdom elsewhere, the SA trial is steeped in caution and constraint and is unlikely to make that much of a positive difference in the lives of the 50 people lucky enough to be chosen by a government selection panel. Indeed, it looks set to repeat some of the errors that other places have already learned from and moved on.

I really want Individualised Funding to be a success in South Australia, so it is painful to have to be critical of the SA initiative. But criticise I must, because the scheme contains more irony than a car wreckers yard. How so? Well, the whole idea about Individualised Funding is that it gives people genuine choice and control over their publicly funded support arrangements. But choice and control are missing at critical points throughout the SA initiative's arrangements. First, only 50 people get to be involved. What if you are person number 51? No choice, no control, because you're not in. If more than 50 people want to choose this, why limit it to 50? Sure the local arrangements needs to be road-tested, but you don't have to stop at 50 to achieve this, and you shouldn't have to wait a year or longer for your turn, because road-tests simply don't have to take that long.

Next, if you want help with planning, the scheme's paid facilitators have already been identified from within government services, so there's not much choice there. This isn't to say that the facilitators will not be helpful, just that they may not be the people that the participants would choose, if given the choice.

Next, you can't employ your own staff. So again, this sets limits on choice and control. While not everyone will want to run their own support crew, it's important to have that option there. We can reasonably assume that at least some people will want to do this, but they're not allowed. Bye bye again to choice and control.

Finally, there is the matter of what you can spend the funds on. In the better examples of Individualised Funding in practice, you have a very wide choice about how you can use the funds, as long as you don't spend the money on gambling or something illegal. Unfortunately, the SA initiative states that you can't spend the funds on anything that people would normally buy with their own money. This is a profoundly unhelpful limitation,and will hinder people trying to build creative and personalised arrangements in their lives.

So it seems that the SA Individualised Funding initiative is the choice and control you have when you don't have choice and control. Time to celebrate. Claytons, anyone?