Are we beginning to hear the death knell of SDS?


Susan Smith calls on the third sector to fight the fatigue and find ways to save the personalisation dream before it's too late

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6th December 2017 by Susan Smith 0 Comments

The mood at the recent Scottish Parliament committee discussing Self Directed Support (SDS) was lacklustre to say the least.

There was a clear SDS fatigue emanating from representatives of third sector groups, who appear to be losing faith in the ability of Scotland to deliver this revolutionary change to social care. Phrases like “if or when SDS fails” and “SDS cannot be delivered in the current financial climate” were polite digs at a system which appears to be stacked against the service user in search of choice and control. One organisation even suggested the 2013 law needs an urgent review.

The introduction of a person’s legal right to SDS in 2014 was supposed to be the dawn of a new age of social care, where the human rights and autonomy of the individual took precedence over cost and convenience. Instead of having services thrust upon them, like day care centres on home helps, people with disabilities and health problems would be able to choose and design their own care package.

For some, this means receiving a direct payment and managing their own care independently, for others it means choosing a provider to manage it for them.

Nearly four years down the line, £60 million of government funding later and seven years into a 10 year personalisation strategy, just over a quarter of Scots are making use of SDS. The number of people receiving direct payments rose to a paltry 6,450 from 3,850 in the six years from 2010 to 2016.

With stories of people waiting years to get SDS, of having their budgets cut or being told it's not for them, It's no wonder the third sector is losing heart.

It’s not that SDS isn’t a good idea and it is not that service providers aren’t committed to it. As new policies go, SDS has received near universal backing, everyone is agreed that personalisation is the right way to go.

The issues are complex but money and system change seem to be at the heart of it. Councils’ love of wholesale price-based competitive tendering is at odds with SDS, over-worked social workers don’t have time for the detailed conversations they need to have with service users, there aren’t enough local support bodies to provide information and guidance, and lots of people still don’t know what SDS is. These are just some of the problems identified by the third sector over the last few months.

It seems that cost and convenience are still taking precedence over human rights and autonomy.

This summer’s Audit Scotland report into SDS had a series of recommendations, yet it doesn’t appear to have filled the third sector with optimism. In the face of government distractions, from health and social care integration to Brexit, tinkering around the edges of this sputtering policy is not going to turn it into the well-oiled machine service users need. 

Whether or not a review of the legislation is urgently necessary or not, a radical rethink is definitely required. The third sector is going to have to shake off that fatigue, refind its faith and come up with solutions to save SDS, othewise it could easily be forgotten amongst the series of other unfulfilled social justice dreams of this government. 

Susan Smith is editor of Third Force News.