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Social care system continues to ignore service users' rights, according to new study

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A four-year project funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has highlighted how the current social care system is failing to safeguard people's human and civil rights.

The £500,000 Standards We Expect project, led by a consortium including researchers from Brunel University’s Centre for Citizen Participation, service uses, and practitioners, has produced the largest and most authoritative independent study of personalisation and person-centred support to date.

The project team examined the development of personalisation from the perspectives of service users, carers, face-to-face practitioners and middle managers in a range of settings and found that outdated attitudes and doubtful practice are still too common.

Amongst its findings, the team encountered service users who were disempowered in residential settings and institutionalised in their own home. Wheelchair users in homes reported that they were not allowed to use their own fridges or cookers in case their hands were contaminated through touching their wheels. Disabled people talked of not being allowed to go out without a risk assessment being carried out, while some were limited to living with their parents because they were denied the support to get their own accommodation.

However, the project found that good practice was still possible, even in the hardest of times and there is now widespread acceptance that existing social care policy and funding are inadequate and untenable. Social care policy and funding are both currently under review.

A comprehensive book on the subject, Supporting People: Towards a person-centred approach, was launched alongside the Project’s findings and was co-authored by Peter Beresford, Professor of Social Policy at Brunel University. The book addresses three fundamental questions: What does ‘person-centred support’ really mean? What are the main barriers to such person-centred support? And how can these barriers be overcome?

Professor Beresford said: “Social care services are routinely failing to safeguard the basic human and civil rights of many service users, limiting their lives and restricting their opportunities.

There has been a failure overall to bring about change in social care in line with what service users say they want. And this was true even before the current round of cuts.”

Supporting People builds on evidence gathered during the Standards we Expect project and highlights several key issues, including:

  • Much mainstream discussion about personalisation has focused on methods and techniques rather than the objectives of achieving person-centred outcomes.
  • Major obstacles– such as continuing institutionalisation, one-size-fits-all approaches, over-reliance on informal carers, and lack of adequate funding – continue to obstruct the implementation of person-centred support, although some local services demonstrate ways in which it can be taken forward even in difficult times.
  • Adequate funding from general taxation is likely to offer the most effective route to achieve person-centred support and to reduce the increasingly unhelpful barriers between health, social care and other services.
  • Practitioners and service users are working hard to advance person-centred support in many settings, developing bottom-up ways of challenging barriers.

Peter Beresford added: “This is the first in-depth examination of the development of person-centred support from the perspectives of service users, carers, face-to-face practitioners and middle managers.

Both service users and practitioners strongly agree on the definition of person-centred support, and have identified clear, value-based criteria. It is now crucial for there to be a true commitment to these values if we are going to make real, lasting change.”

The Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb welcomed the project and book launch event in Westminster, saying there was a need to “radically move away” from social care’s traditional “paternalistic approach”. But he also warned that the move towards personalisation was “being undermined by a shortage of funds”, and voiced his concern about the way that some local authorities had responded to public sector funding cuts.

Other speakers at the launch included the Labour Shadow spokesperson Emily Thornberry and a representative of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services. Delegates included senior spokespersons of the General Social Care Council, Skills for Care, National Skills Academy for Social Care and the Department of Health.

Notes to Editors

  1. The book Supporting People: Towards a person-centred approach is available from Policy Press. Visit www.policypress.co.uk
  2. Transforming social care: sustaining person-centred support, the findings from the Standards we Expect project, are available to download free from www.jrf.org.uk
  3. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) is one of the largest social policy research and development charities in the UK. Working with the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust (JRHT) it aims to influence policy and practice by searching for evidence and demonstrating solutions to help overcome the causes of poverty, disadvantage and social evil. www.jrf.org.uk
  4. JRF is on Twitter and Facebook. Keep up to date with news and comments at www.twitter.com/jrf_uk or www.facebook.com/josephrowntreefoundation

Contact: Professor Peter Beresford OBE