Reviewing SDS – giving evidence to the Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny committee

Written by: Colin Young, Senior Policy Officer, the ALLIANCE

Published: 07/12/2017

Circular shape on a red background, with the caption 'Self-directed Support' in the centre

Colin reports on giving evidence to the Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny committee about Self-directed Support.

Regular viewers of Scottish Parliament TV (and there are some!) may have noticed my appearance at the Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny committee last week.

The committee recently posed a request for suggestions on legislation requiring review. Following our submission, encouraging consideration of the self-directed support legislation based on recent research on personal experiences of SDS, the ALLIANCE was invited to discuss three key issues; information provision, workforce, and removing barriers.

Beginning the session, Jess Wade (SDSS), Iain Smith (Inclusion Scotland), and I gave the committee an overview of the barriers preventing disabled people and those with long-term conditions from accessing advice and information about SDS. The main theme here was that there is an inconsistent message being delivered by social work departments, which leads to wide variation across Scotland as to how informed people are about their right to SDS. This chimes with our research and there is a real link between how the information is presented and how people use it. Often, it comes down to the individual discussion between the social worker and the individual. Our research found that 25 per cent of people who had been made aware of SDS by the social worker stated that they still did not know anything, or knew only very little, about self-directed support.

From the Local Authorities’ perspective however, specifically Glasgow, the issue focused on the data-collection process which led to a short exchange between Alex Neil MSP and David Williams (Glasgow City Council) about the lack of up-to-date infrastructure through which to accurately evidence how SDS is being implemented with their local authority.

On the issue of the workforce, resources were considered to be the predominant factor that restrict the full implementation of SDS. Jess Wade and Iain Smith gave a detailed description of the impact of restricted eligibility criteria upon the ability of people to have real choice and control over their support, but both also identified that it is an attitudinal approach that underpins how decisions are taken and resources are allocated. While the Local Authority representatives acknowledged the challenges that have stemmed from tightening budgets, they pointed to the need to balance the move to outcomes based approaches with their responsibility to manage competing priorities with their legal duties to meet social care demands. On this point however, I noted that  if people know and have a conversation about what the costs are and what the resources are, they understand that and they know the situation. It is about inflexibility and resistance to allowing people to take more control over their own choices. The issue that has been raised about agencies that seem to be flouting the legislation is worrying. People are being told, “You are not allowed to use this for X,” but the legislation is quite clear that it is allowed if it meets the outcome. That has real consequences for people.

On the whole, I got the sense that the committee was sympathetic to the issues raised and acknowledged the challenges that have prevented SDS from being implemented as it was intended. While the committee appeared to understand the position that Local Authorities are in, when thinking about the limitations imposed by financial agreements, they appeared a little frustrated by the progress that has (or hasn’t) been made in changing the culture of social work towards one which promotes individuals’ independence and autonomy to achieve their outcomes.

Jess summarised well the key to encouraging transformational change – leadership from national government – however as she went on to acknowledge, it “will be very difficult for the Scottish Government to do, given the set-up in Scotland at the moment. It is very difficult for the Scottish Government to give quite strong direction to local authorities about where they need to change or improve—at least, it seems that way, sometimes”.

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