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Personalisation – plus ça change?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 February 2022

Iain Ferguson
Affiliation:
University of New South Wales
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Summary

Beresford provides a warning against any blithe acceptance of new terms in social care and support. He warns against the term ‘personalisation’ being seen as a new, inherently progressive and irreversible development and language. These assertions are helpful and sobering. So often, newly minted terms in adult social care arise and are aggrandised by use and exchange to take on proportions and promise that cannot be delivered, or that even distort reality. ‘Empowerment’, ‘citizen control’, ‘user-led services’, ‘emancipatory practice’, all in their time offered new visions or even relations of social support while strangely emanating from a traditional practice and policy context. What makes personalisation different is the apparent borrowing of the language of the Disabled People's Movement and perceived convergence of Department of Health (DH)-driven policy and the more collectively based ideas that sprang from a radical rejection of a paternalist heritage. This convergence could be the result of a genuine listening and response of the DH and an attempt to deliver on the process of capturing the voices of the Disabled People's Movement. Alternatively, personalisation and self-direction can more generally be seen as a cynical use of the term, as a sort of Trojan horse, for obscuring cuts and externalising risk to sick and disabled people in the longer term. For example, by simply changing the language slightly from ‘personalisation’ to ‘personalised solutions’, we can undertake a policy sleight of hand that increasingly expects self-determination and self-provisioning to prevail in an era of chronic austerity. This has already happened to some extent in the linguistic shift from ‘self-direction’ to ‘self-management’ and in the shift to personalised ‘condition management’ in the wider policy domain.

The truth is somewhere between these points, I would argue. I fully agree with Beresford's concern that personalisation does not enter the lexicon of policy and practice without health warnings. There have undoubtedly been genuine attempts to listen to organisations of disabled people and personalisation is clearly a counter to paternalist Fordist principles that services will be delivered according to professional needs and not those of service users. However, the term and its use risk becoming post-Fordist in the sense that limited funding and the spending of meagre budgets on essentials, rather than transforming social care, may simply be the equivalent of changing the outer appearance of disabled people's lives.

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Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2014

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