Personalisation budgets are funds that allow us to respond to the individual needs of the people we work with and give them choices about the types of financial support they need. Find out more in this blog from our Data Analyst Keith Gibson.
Keith joined Fulfilling Lives Newcastle Gateshead (FLNG) in August 2018. His academic background includes degrees in Physics, Applied Mathematics and Engineering. He has a passionate interest in inequality and poverty and joined FLNG to use his skillset to contribute to the goals of the programme.
In this blog, Keith talks about how we use personalisation budgets to support people experiencing multiple and complex needs, summarises what we have learned about this approach so far and gives some specific examples of personalisation budgets in practice.
Money: a person-centred approach
Resources allow people to obtain the bare necessities and luxuries of life, and provide a way to overcome everyday obstacles. For the people we work with the idea of spending money to overcome obstacles is a luxury they cannot necessarily justify or afford. Our people are experiencing poverty as well as needing support to build their money management skills; many don’t have the coping mechanisms and support structures in place that we can take for granted. Our programme evidence shows that they may be experiencing debt or financial abuse. In addition to this, our people generally don’t have the benefit of seeking financial assistance from friends and family.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is running late to get to an important medical appointment. Would you get a taxi? Ask a friend for a lift? This isn’t an option for everyone. This is where our personalised spending budget comes into play.
Our personalisation budget allows the Fulfilling Lives Newcastle Gateshead team to make on the fly choices about where and how to spend money to support people. Over the last few years we have financially supported people in a variety of ways including spending on transport, helping out with utility bills, food and coffee, new shoes, mobile telephones, and furniture such as bedding and curtains for privacy.
In a recent review we found that Transport and Basic Needs account for nearly a third of the amount we have spent. Below provides a more complete picture of where we have spent money:
We looked at the reasons stated by the worker for each expenditure and found that ‘Engagement’ was by far the most quoted reason for spending. Other reasons included ‘Self Care’, ‘Motivation’ and ‘Networking’.
Besides a significant amount spent on food/drink, public transport and mobile phones we also supported people to purchase personal hygiene products, a suit and shoes so that someone could attend their grandmother’s funeral, dental treatment and access to storage facilities.
In recent months we have been spending more money on recreation and fun, and have been exploring the benefits of increasing client social activity and their level of social engagement. The transition from transactional spending (coffees, sandwiches, basic items) to aspirational spending (planting seeds for self-esteem and ambition) has been a challenge. We have regularly emphasised that our team do not need to swap bare necessity spending for aspirational spending. They can and should do both.
We’re currently piloting Critical Time Intervention (www.criticaltime.org/cti-model), and in addition to exploring personal goals with people, we’re trying to spend in ways that are more than a poverty alleviating exercise. There is often an underlying biased belief that those in poverty should only use resources as a tool to escape their circumstances; a kind of negative utilitarianism. We do not agree with this and believe that fun, recreation and enjoyment should be all or part of a client’s plan to find stability.
Since the start of this year we have been ramping up our learning about our Critical Time Intervention pilot. One aspect of this includes using the available personalisation budget to help move someone into a better position for tackling their future – this may be in the form of creating an opportunity or simply creating a positive memorable experience from which to build upon.
At present money has been spent on driving lessons, a bicycle, a laptop, tickets to a local football match, yoga classes, and passport and travel documents.
Let’s explore some of these spends:
Suit and Shoes
This person had never owned a suit before. This purchase reportedly made a significant difference to the client on an emotional level, their self-esteem and it raised their confidence to attend an important social gathering.
“Me family were all talking about getting sorted with clothes for the funeral, I mean he kitted us out, I wasn’t gonna get paid until a few days after, he said I’ll sort it out…in the shop people were saying you look like a man, I know I’m a man but I felt it…”
Passport, general support and driving lessons
This person has worked with Fulfilling Lives since January 2015, and during this time they have had no recourse to public funds. We have accessed over £3000 of personalisation funding to support them with a wide range of needs.
One item purchased for this client was a pair of trainers. It is easy to forget how sometimes the little things can make us feel like a new person; for some people it may be a new perfume that invigorates and gives confidence, for another it may be new hairstyle. For this person, it was a pair of trainers which improved their mood and self-esteem.
Later, they were interviewed by our research team and at this point they had been awarded status to remain in the UK. They were proud to show us their status card and the provisional driving license they accessed through the personalisation fund.
They are now learning to drive, with the hope this will enhance their career prospects and increase their level of independence.
Carpet and Blinds
One of this person’s goals was to make their new property more than a shelter, they wanted a home. Many properties are missing the most basic elements such as curtains and carpet.
Previously charitable or DWP funding was available for carpets, however, this is no longer the case, and we have spent £2500 on carpets since the beginning of the project. Our staff consider carpet to be an essential and that, first and foremost, it should be thought of as flooring. No-one can deny flooring to be an essential element of a home.
“the property was spot on, he liked it…but really cold and stark without the carpets, once they are in I think he’ll feel like it’s a home”
This person wanted to try something new, and so they began attending yoga classes and we paid for a gym membership. Their System Change Practitioner reflects “they were more relaxed and happy afterwards, the difference in mood was obvious”. Unfortunately, unrelated events cut short this person’s ability to attend further sessions, however, they have indicated their desire to return in due course.
This person indicated that as part of their ongoing recovery access to a laptop would be beneficial to complete their homework. They also noted that their next step is to access further training courses and it is intended that the laptop will assist with that goal too.
This person joined the FLNG programme with a high level of anxiety and paranoia. They didn’t leave their house, they couldn’t use the local Metro system and acknowledged they were on a slow decline due to their isolation.
Since then this person has been supported and encouraged by one of our System Change Practioners and they have made significant progress.
Most recently we worked with the person to provide an opportunity for them to go on their first ever holiday. They travelled by train to a seaside town and thoroughly enjoyed their time there, so much so that they are now interested in organising another trip at a later date.
Here at FLNG we believe that services and the support they offer are improved through true co-production and promoting people’s choice and preferences. By asking a person “what would make your life better and happier right now at this point in time?” and having a personalisation budget to help put that in place means our System Change Practitioners can share power with the people they are supporting so they, and we believe they are best placed to do so, can identify how their personal budget should be spent.
I suppose a common thread running through all of this is the idea of feeling good, better self-esteem, confidence, pride and a sense of achievement. If this is wrapped up with some happiness and joy for our people then that’s even better.
This contrasts with the traditional sense of constantly fighting fires, and also promotes positivity amongst case workers by creating a shared experience with the worker and the person they’re supporting.
This type of approach, we hope, will lead to the planting of a seed that will eventually have a secondary positive impact – be it a future epiphany, a positive memory that cheers someone up when they’re feeling down or even reminds them of what they’re capable of. That is to say if our memories and experiences contribute to who we are as a person then it makes sense to promote positive experiences and memories in addition to fighting fires.