SCIE Report 40: Keeping personal budgets personal: learning from the experiences of older people, people with mental health problems and their carers


Research aims

The overall aim of the research was to:

'examine personal budget processes and practices for people with mental health problems and older people by investigating the front-line experience of service users from these groups and to … produce evidence to inform good practice in this area and [in a second stage of work] to develop learning resources for workforce skills development'.

To address these aims, the research focused on a number of key areas, including:

The research was essentially a practice investigation, not an evaluation of personal budgets, and as such was very practical in its nature. In particular it sought to draw on the experiences of personal budget holders and carers, and the views of practitioners and managers from local authorities, mental health trusts and support provider organisations, to identify positive practice. While there were many examples of positive practice, all the case study sites emphasised that it was still 'early days' for them in terms of the implementation of personal budgets, and both their personal budget systems and front-line practice were still evolving. Recognising this, the research notes where personal budget holders' experiences had been less good, and then brings together personal budget holders' and practitioners' ideas about ways in which personal budget processes and practices could be improved or strengthened.

The research was conducted by a joint team from Acton Shapiro, the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL) and the Social Policy Research Unit (SPRU). An advisory group was also established to help steer and inform the research. The research team began by bringing together the key policy and research literature to ensure that the project could build upon what is already known about personal budgets. This information was also used to inform the development of the research instruments and to establish the criteria which would guide the selection of case study sites. The research was then conducted in three main stages.

Interviews with 10 national organisations and the knowledge and contacts of the research team were used to identify possible case study local authorities. Five local authorities (two with partner mental health trusts) agreed to take part. They provided a broad mix of councils, and different geographical, demographic and socioeconomic characteristics.

For each LA/trust, the research team began by drawing together basic contact and personal budget information. A combination of approaches to data collection was then used:

A number of approaches (tailored to each site) were then used to find people who use services and carers willing to take part in the study. The exact mix of interviews and groups varied, but 69 personal budget holders and carers, 40 practitioners and managers and 12 support provider organisations (including five user-led organisations) eventually contributed to the research.


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