Thursday, November 26, 2009

Keeping the flame burning

Anonymous local authority, UK

Oh how things can change.  Some folk may be aware that I was in the UK a little over a year ago, and was very enthusiastic about a certain local authority that was rolling out Individualised Funding, known in these here parts as 'Self-Directed Support' and 'Individual Budgets'.

What marked it out for me?  For starters I like the coherent, thoughtful approach to the methodology, where the local authority seemed to genuinely invest time in getting to know people and their situations.  I also liked the fact that they had people with a lived experience of disability on the implementation team.  Also, the implementation team leader was a passionate advocate for the methodology and who in turn was well-supported by a senior manager within the local authority.  It was all VERY encouraging.

Fourteen months on, I'm back in the UK and I got an update. And frankly a shock. Things have changed, and folk are no longer quite as enthusiastic about this local authority.  So what's changed exactly?

The senior manager moved on to a job with another local authority.  This in turn changed the balance of senior leadership, and meant that the Individual Budgets program lost its key 'sponsor' i.e. the person who is senior enough in the organisation to help fix issues and remove roadblocks.  Without a sponsor, the implementation team leader was now under-supported on critical issues, it was only a matter of time before that person departed, and they have.

This is a reminder to all of us about the need for leadership vigilance and renewal, so that there is always someone to carry the torch and light the way.   It is so important to support other people to grow into leadership roles so that people can survive the departure/loss of a leader.  This is as true for an informal circle of people in the life of a person living with disability as it is for a formal organisation trying to do good works.

But for this particular local authority there is an even bigger issue, which applies to ALL the local authorities in England.  People will know that I have previously asserted the following:

'a good idea is at its most vulnerable during implementation'

And this is most definitely the case with Individual Budgets in the UK, which has perhaps become the victim of its own success.  At this stage of its implementation, the national government has announced that all local authorities must offer it, and must achieve certain targets.  Let's think about what that means.  While it is a triumph for those local authorities who have enthusiastically responded to the call from the disability community that there must be a better way, there will be other local authorities who have been less enthusiastic, or who have otherwise been self-limited by the drama of their own bureaucracies.  And now they've been told to do it, and get the numbers up.

So what happens?  All of a sudden there is less attention to detail, to getting to know the person really well, to assisting the person to build an arrangement that is tailored for them.  Instead, its a numbers game, involving a quick look and a quick response.  Which means that there will be a bias towards working with people with less complicated situations, and a bias towards buying things that are already out there.  In this way, the model of Individual Budgets would lose all of its potency, making it highly likely that people would end up with pretty much the same services that they had before.

Add to that the high likelihood that there will be a cut in support funding across the land because of the effect of the global downturn on the British economy, and things can start looking grim.

The main thing that committed people can do right now in the UK is to stay true to the fundamental values of Self-Directed Support, and to continue to work with those local authorities who still carry the vital ingredients for success.  That's the best way to ride out this particular storm and maintain momentum.

As seafarers will know, it's never easy to keep a candle flame alight during a storm, but without such situations we wouldn't have had the invention of the hurricane lamp.  One of my favourite innovations, the hurricane lamp (in case you didn't know) is a specially designed glass lantern that protects the burning flame from the elements, so that even during a storm you can light your way.

I am hopeful that a hurricane lamp will merge to protect the momentum and potency of Self-Directed Support and Individual Budgets.  Its too important to be snuffed out.


  1. Robbi - that is disappointing, as so many SA consumers take hope from the UK experience.
    But thanks for sharing with anyone who is interested including consumers. One of my ongoing frustrations is that so many disability $$ are spent on sending bureaucrats and disabililty staff on conferences etc both OS and interstate and yet direct services continue to dwindle in SA. To the point that therapists now do not have time to actually see their clients, so the knowledge they gain whilst on conferences never translates in to improved services for their clients. You however can travel anytime if you continue to share the knowledge gained!Thank you. Ronni

  2. "So what happens?..... Instead, its a numbers game, involving a quick look and a quick response".

    On ABC Radio National last week (24th Nov) there was a very interesting interview with Phillip Blond (Director & founder of the think tank, ResPublica) on what he titles 'The Ownership state'. The basic tenant of his argument is that, improving the effectiveness of public services will depend on getting frontline service providers and their clients working together in a new ownership model.

    Although his ideas are given much promotion by the Tory opposition in the UK, and labelled "Red Toryism" in media commentary’ it could be argued they are not of themselves conservative ideas. ABC interviewer Phillip Adams (not known for his 'conservative credentials) was keen to impress that such ideas could also be informative to any 'renewal' of the left of politics.

    Although Philip Blond did not disagree with this proposition, he went on the outline the problems of present state economic control (obsession with planning and meeting targets) which is the norm for centre-left governments, and with the liberal-left promotion of the individual the the important nexus of social being, without any necessarily context to community. On the right of political thought his criticism focused on the abandonment (and dislocation) of whole communities by the polity (and the state) under the Thatcher Government that was embedded in the language of individual social and economic rights.

    What I find interesting from Robbi's comments from the UK is that the pursuit of individualised supports for people with disability (to lead lives within the natural supports of the community) is partnered by many parallel conversations that essentially lead in the same direction.

    The web site is
    And the interview is at.