Conducted by a team from five university research units*, the independent evaluation found that individual budgets had particular benefits for mental health service users and younger disabled people. While there were no important differences in overall cost, and there were indications that individual budgets potentially offer greater value for money.
Individual budgets give people with care needs the power to decide the nature of their own support and the report showed that most groups liked this. They can choose to use the money to fund the care that suits them best and fits their lifestyle, for example having someone support them at home rather than going into residential care.
Mental health service users in the individual budget group reported a significantly higher quality of life. Younger physically disabled people were more likely to report higher quality of care, and were more satisfied with the help they received, the choice and control they experienced and felt they had the opportunity to build better quality support networks. People with learning disabilities were more likely to feel that they had control over their daily lives.
However, the report found that older people did not find the individual budget system used during the pilot as easy to use as the other groups, and they did not appear to like the idea of managing their own support. Since the research, more support has been given for this group. ‘Early indicators have shown that this has transformed their experiences of using individual budgets,’ added Phil Hope, who added that further research will follow to investigate the impacts of budget self management. It’s a very complex area, he said, but the report’s recommendations would be addressed.
Results from this research will be added to the endeavour to introduce pilots of personal budgets for healthcare from 2009, as per the National Health Service (NHS) Next Stage Review.
* Study team: University of York’s Social Policy Research Unit; Kings College London’s Social Care Workforce Research Unit and the Personal Social Services Research Unit of Manchester University, LSE and the University of Kent.