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Social Care Services

Volume 476: debated on Monday 2 June 2008

1. What progress has been made in developing the pilot projects for individual budgets for people receiving social care services, with particular reference to disabled people; and if he will make a statement. (208017)

Individual budgets, which have been piloted in 13 local authority areas, have given social care customers, including disabled people, greater choice and control over the services they receive. The pilots were comprehensively evaluated, and we expect to publish the results later in the year.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Next week is carers week, when we will be thinking about those issues a great deal more than usual, and I believe that disabled people and their carers in my constituency could really benefit from the extra flexibility of individual budgets. What extra steps can his Department take to try to ensure that disabled people use individual budgets much more widely once the pilots are completed?

I quite agree with my hon. Friend, and we believe firmly that disabled people get greater dignity and control from the use of individual budgets, which also enable them to get better solutions to the problems that we are trying to help them with.

To give an example from the pilots, a woman with breathing problems used her individual budget to buy some air conditioning and instead of having to spend the summer in hospital, as she used to do, she was able to stay at home and look after her children. That is a great example of the kind of work that we want to encourage and will be looking to take forward in the Green Paper, which we will publish shortly.

While entirely endorsing the principle of individual budgets and in no sense wishing to suggest that people are not well empowered to make up their own mind, will the Secretary of State please bear in mind the importance of giving access to adequate and responsible advice, so that people are not, as it were, suborned into the misuse of their budget, but can use it in accordance with their needs and to best effect?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and he has a very long record of campaigning on those issues, which I acknowledge. The key point is that the default should be that people can continue to get the service, but if they are not satisfied with it and want to be able to do things differently they should be able to do so. Of course, they should then have the advice to enable them to do that. That is one of the key things to come up in the pilots and he is right to raise it.

My own local authority, Aberdeen city council, is looking at introducing individualised budgets, particularly through a system called In Control. That is all very laudable, but Aberdeen city council’s Scottish National party-Liberal administration has just slashed £27 million out of its budget and is closing a lot of facilities that were accessible to people who would qualify for individualised budgets. In fact, the whole thing is being introduced on a cuts agenda. What does my right hon. Friend make of that?

I condemn strongly the action of the council, which I know my hon. Friend has raised before. These issues should never be used as cover for a cuts agenda; they should be about empowering people to get better care for themselves and to get back into work.

One of the critical things for those getting the benefit of individual budgets is the means of enabling them to get back into work and making it more possible for them to do so. They are, therefore, concerned about the support that they will get through the employment and support allowance. Can the Secretary of State confirm how much extra the Government are planning to spend on employment and support allowance benefit over the next five years, compared with what they spend on incapacity benefit?