The role played by professionals in protecting vulnerable older people from abusive relationships is all the more crucial as a result of the government’s self-directed support policy, and a review of the Vetting and Barring Scheme announced in October 2010 by Home Secretary Theresa May.
Self-directed support, or personalisation, aims to tailor social services to reflect individual needs. On the face of it, this may seem preferable to the old system that involved professionals making all the decisions about the support people received. However, part of the personalisation agenda includes a move towards personalised budgets and there are well-founded concerns that self-directed support is not necessarily the best option for everyone. This is especially the case for many vulnerable elderly people who may prefer not to manage their own care and might even receive poorer quality support than under the old system. As a result of these concerns, a system of safeguarding has become necessary.
Those who advocate safeguarding do not argue that personalisation in itself is dangerous. Instead, the debate centres around the impact of personalisation on the vulnerability of older people; whether vulnerability is increased by personalisation; and whether the risks are balanced by the benefits.
Possible specific problems
There are two specific areas in which the risks of abuse to vulnerable older persons could be increased by the personalisation agenda and personal budgets. The first relates to the receipt of personal budget monies. As personalisation gives people greater control of their
finances, it also makes them more attractive targets for exploitation. If a person is already being financially exploited, the abuse of a personal budget may leave the individual without care services.
The second issue involves the use of a personal budget. In the rush to meet targets, older vulnerable people are being told that their services are to be withdrawn in favour of individual budgets. There are concerns that many people may not be aware that they can say no to this option. The policy states that personalisation and receipt of personal budgets are a matter of choice, but where public finances are involved, this does not always seem to be the case.
The Putting People First concordat states: “We will always fulfil our responsibility to provide care and protection for those who through their illness or disability are genuinely unable to express needs and wants or exercise control.” However, the risks are never simple. For example, it is well known that social isolation lends itself to exploitative relationships. Concerns of losing social contact, even if it is abusive, may lead people to reject professional help.
Vetting and Barring Scheme
The Vetting and Barring Scheme was one of the key responses to the Soham murders and was launched in 2009. If individuals are not registered, or are barred, they cannot work with children or vulnerable adults. The new Home Secretary, Theresa May, stopped the implementation of the scheme in June 2010, and in October set out the terms of reference for a review which is expected to make recommendations early in 2011. The criminal records system will also be reviewed, with a report on employment vetting systems involving the Criminal Records Bureau, as well as on the broader system. Theresa May emphasised that the review’s paramount objective is the protection of children and vulnerable adults, but also underlined the need to support a ‘trusting, caring society where well meaning people are encouraged rather than deterred’.
It is to be hoped that the review recommendations will work well. However, as the Bichard Inquiry pointed out: “The harsh reality is that if a sufficiently devious person is determined to seek out opportunities to work their evil, no-one can guarantee that they will be stopped. Our task is to make it as difficult as possible for them to succeed.”
With the personalisation agenda expanding, and as local authority and government department budgets shrink, safeguarding vulnerable older people – in dealing with personal budgets and with the whole personalisation agenda – will become more and more important. There is no doubt that personal budgets can be a doorway to a more fulfilling life. But safeguarding is essential if budgetary restrictions and the way they are applied means poorer care provision for older and vulnerable people, or if personal budgets can be accessed by unscrupulous persons. Whatever Vetting and Barring Scheme is produced by the coalition government’s review will play an important part, but so too will public policy and professional awareness.
For more information please contact our Private Client team on 0161 475 7676..