Friday, July 25, 2008

A Good Life on the Cheap

What I mean to say is that the good things in life are cheap - or even free. Take this evening. I got home early from work. The sun dappled our garden while we played with the children on the grass (I am now Hide and Seek Champion). Then we gave them tea outside, took them for a bath and put them to bed. My children are my biggest treasure. Time like this feels gifted. I can't get over how lucky I am.

As the sun set I jumped in the car to Ickworth country park, run by the National Trust (free entry for locals) and attempt a sub forty minute 10k in the glorious fading light of a summer evening with Kate Bush's `Big Sky' (circa 1986) streaming into my ears. I run past corn fields with the stalks aching under the grain. I see two foxes and, I think, a badger. Although it took me 42 minutes,I actually felt deeply happy and natural. On arriving home, I wolfed a tuna bake we made earlier for about 50p and a big glass of water before watching Newsnight and heading up here.

Why am I boring you with the details of one 39 year olds man's perfect summer evening in Bury St Edmunds? Well, it comes back to something I spend a lot of my working time now thinking about. Self Directed Support. Personal Budgets. Personalisation.

What's the link? Well, all the talk about self-directed support is about money. "Will the money be enough?" "Isn't it all about cuts?" "How will people spend their budgets?". Actually, its not, primarily about money. Its about getting people who have extra needs to the point where I was tonight. Where they can enjoy the free stuff that life gives to you. The stuff that money can't actually buy.

My early experience of working with disabled people was that they had money stuffed into them, albeit in the form of support-workers and bricks-and-mortar. But that was it. No choice about how to spend that money. And little effort made to find the things for people that really mattered most. The relationships, the leisure activities, the freedom to just go-do.

The money that exists in social care, on its own, isn't enough to do much with in terms of buying twentieth century 'care'. That is true and will always be true.

However, combined with the aspirations of the person and the free or near-free resources all around us it is possible to create feats of alchemy. Massive multipliers. Leverage on a scale not yet seen.

We're seeing the results in many people's lives, like that of Speaking Up Trustee Darren Fitzpatrick who uses his budget to unlock access to the things he likes doing. Going to town. DJing, doing voluntary work. Watching planes take off and land at the local airport.

Darren's life is rich and full. On probably 20% of his support package as a `dual diagnosis' mental health patients four years ago. He came on one of our programmes to make his own way in life. Like me, he has exactly what he wants. He just needs a bit more cash than I do to access it.

Its called a Personal Budget.

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