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Measures to Promote Choice, Diversity and Quality of Service
Putting the user at the centre of services is a long-standing policy direction. Making this a reality is more difficult to do than to say. In the new Social Services and Wellbeing Act there are specific measures designed to empower the service user and in so doing, drive up quality and choice. These measures and the underpinning values and principles they are linked to are explored in this article.
Under Part 2 section 16, local authorities are placed under an obligation to promote models of service such as social-enterprises actively involve users and carers in the design and delivery of services. These non-profit making structures are seen as being more responsive and relevant, and a way of flexibly addressing need in a way that rigid statutory services find difficult.
Social-enterprises are ‘businesses’ which exist for the social-good rather than for the financial benefit of directors or investors. Any surplus (profits) are reinvested back into the provision of services. In other respects they are identical to regular businesses as they require a business plan, targeted customers (clients), and an awareness of who the competitor services are. Funding may come in the form of service-level agreements from local authorities or grants from national charitable foundations, as well as the individual client funds made available under the Act.
Under Part 4 sections 50-53 there are measures to promote the availability of direct-funding for support packages, so that the service-users or a suitable person on their behalf can purchase directly from a provider. The service-user needs to consent to and request the direct funding option, and they need to be deemed competent to handle the payments. Alternatively a suitable person can be appointed to act on their behalf. Once direct funding is approved it can be reversed if the service-user changes their mind, and funding then returns to the local authority to arrange services. Direct funding can increase the flexibility and control service-users have over their support.
What these measures have in common is that they link to the principles underpinning the Act – in delivering person-centred care within a values-based approach. Identifying these principles are necessary for a complete and rounded understanding of the Act as they help bring the determinants and measures contained within the Act to life.
In summary the Act is intended to enable:
- ‘Liberty’ – through equality of provision nationally;
- ‘Local’ quality services;
- ‘Best-fit’ services that accurately match well-being goals;
- ‘Proactive’ highly collaborative, preventative and early intervention focused services.
The measures discussed in this article, designed to increase availability of social-enterprises and directly-funded support, are integral to realising these principles.