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Crisis & Retrenchment: Personalisation as a stepping stone to welfare reform

Open Panel

Abstract

The welfare state finds few defenders; Googling reveals an extensive literature about its many failings. Even before the Credit Crunch, the welfare state was besieged by spiralling financial costs and increasingly unable to meet basic entitlements; its defenders now propose raising the retirement age, increasing means testing, and an explicit rationing of benefits. Additionally, welfare dependency is well-documented. Because of the trillions of unfunded entitlements and to overcome dependency problems, far-reaching welfare reform is undoubtedly required. But is genuine welfare reform possible? Two constituencies pose potential opposition to reform. First, recipients: whilst the press might attack “benefit scroungers”, people have lived their lives under the present structure of welfare rights and have in good faith orientated their life-planning (especially pensions, health and social care planning) to that structure. Second, bureaucrats involved in the current structure of welfare provision, see their jobs and beliefs reform as threatened. To avoid creating a natural constituency hostile to reform, we must carry people dependent upon welfare rights with us; describing a path from the present structure of entitlements to a more sustainable structure – and in a way that generates support for further reforms. This paper draw’s upon the author’s experience in leading reform of social care in London’s local government. Personalisation of social care – essentially a voucher-like scheme – is about redesigning welfare to better focus on the individual. In Harrow, over 35% of the council’s annual spend is accounted for by adult social care. With a target of about 3,000 or 75-80% of all users on Personal Budgets this effectively places over 28% of the council’s budget into the hands of users. What’s exciting – and challenging for politicians and bureaucrats – is that personalisation is all about individuals making choices about their own social care and giving up state control. For users and their families, personalisation gives them greater choice and control over their care; it also requires greater responsibility from them. Harrow’s story is instructive in how to avoid bureaucratic retrenchment and enlist council officers alongside users and suppliers in promoting welfare reform.