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Third sector gears up to meet

Third sector providers of social care services face a host of new challenges but also opportunities following the Government's commitment to expanding personal budgets* in social care. The issues raised for third sector organisations by policies to expand personal budgets are outlined in 'The impact of personal budgets on third sector providers of social care'. This new booklet highlights the views of leading experts on social care and the third sector as presented during a Public Policy Seminar jointly organised by the Economic and Social Council (ESRC) and the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO), held in February 2009.

The aim of personal budgets is to enable those who rely on social care services to exercise choice and control over the help they need. However, choice is only a reality if the services and types of support that people choose are available. Are third sector providers of social care well-placed to help those who use social care services including older people, adults with mental health problems and disabled people to enjoy greater choice and control?

In the booklet, seminar speakers Professor David Challis and Professor Caroline Glendinning draw on recent research findings to highlight the perceived threats, barriers and opportunities posed by increased user choice.

Fears over rising costs and loss of care workers and clients due to the expansion of personal budgets are just a few of the concerns expressed by third sector organisations. Says Professor Glendinning: "Agency managers anticipated serious risks to their current client base. Because of their overheads, agencies charged more than self-employed care workers ... this was expected to encourage personal budget holders to employ carers privately rather than through agencies. And, opportunities for care workers to earn more per hour by working privately for budget holders suggested that agencies may lose staff."

On the other hand, third sector agencies identify opportunities from the expansion of personal budgets to gain greater independence from local authorities, take on new roles, expand the types of services offered and enjoy increased demand. Professor Challis points out: "Research suggests that substantial potential exists for provider organisations to take on new roles and responsibilities in terms of case management and support planning, as well as in terms of becoming more adaptable and flexible in the services they offer. For example, providers could help service users by taking the role of human resource managers for the personal assistants the users appoint."

Says ESRC Chief Executive, Professor Ian Diamond: To date, by providing access to leading experts and the latest research evidence, our ESRC Public Policy Seminars have offered valuable insight into the potential impact of new government policy and the possible responses. In this, our first joint seminar and subsequent publication with ACEVO, we have enjoyed a really exciting opportunity to bring academic researchers and third sector professionals together to discuss issues of key practical relevance to the third sector."

ACEVO Chief Executive, Stephen Bubb concludes: "For years the basic complaint of third sector organisations providing public services has been that we are good at engaging with service users, but bad at engaging with public sector commissioners .... Where we get the chance, we can deliver high-quality services that service users want.

But more often than not commissioners design contracts that practically exclude the third sector, or tie third sector organisations down in a straightjacket of required outputs and processes, backed up with excessive, bureaucratic monitoring.... Individual budgets could break that mould.

"ACEVO's job is now to support third sector leaders to adapt to individual budgets, to rise to the challenges and to grasp the opportunities," he continues. "This booklet and the seminar on which it is based explores these opportunities and challenges in more detail. It is a very welcome step on an extremely important journey."


Contact: Alexandra Saxon
Economic & Social Research Council

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