This is a copy of a recent letter I wrote on the topic of the RAS or Resource Allocation System in social care.

Dear John

I have written this note to you so that you can share it with others if you think it’s useful.

First of all I wanted to just congratulate you and all the family on all the work you’ve done to help your brother establish his life in the community. I still tell the tale of how your family was the first to use the system of Self-Directed Support that we piloted all those years ago. Your family’s courage and commitment was fantastic.

In fact, although we did not call it a ‘RAS’ [Resource Allocation System] your family were the first to try out this approach which involved having a budget ‘up-front’. The budget was based on my past experience of offering community support to people like your brother. We told your Mum and Dad the budget and then they could work with you and him to develop the plan that brought him back home to Scotland from institutional care in England.

There was never any intention that this first guess at a budget should be fixed, like some scientific fact. Instead the idea was that by giving you a figure to start with it would easier to be realistic and creative. It’s very hard to plan without a budget, and it’s easy for people to spend too much time guessing what the authority will go on to approve. The purpose of telling people up-front was to help people plan what they really thought would be best, instead of second-guessing what might get approval. In my experience this is still a helpful starting point; but it is no more than a starting point.

I have described the development of the RAS in this academic article:

Duffy S (2015) Commentary – what is a resource allocation system? Tizard Learning Disability Review, Vol. 20 Iss: 4, pp.207 – 212

The idea of up-front budgets was always challenging, and many felt it would threaten the authority of the social worker to carry out assessments and shape budgets. As you know, in 2002, feeling unable to make further progress on Self-Directed Support in Scotland, I went back to England.

In 2003 I began a project in England called In Control and there I came up with the term ‘RAS’ as part of an effort to persuade an English local authority to do the same kind of things we’d tried in Scotland. So we began to develop more complex systems to make it clearer what that initial budget should be. Again, this began as an empowering process, and it often helped people to be more creative.

However, I also came under pressure to make these systems more and more complex. In particular I found that managers of social workers didn’t trust their staff to make a reasonable judgement. Instead they wanted the exercise to be more ‘objective’ or ‘scientific’. Sadly, instead of resisting this pressure, as I should have done, I gave in to it. I helped develop systems that became increasingly more complex and which assigned points to needs and money to points. I have published a public apology for creating the ‘Complex RAS’ here:

Duffy S (2012) An Apology. Sheffield, The Centre for Welfare Reform.

The big problem is that the Complex RAS pretends to be scientific and reliable, and yet there is no scientific basis for it at all. At its very best it is a machine for producing guesses. If these budgets are treated as guesses then there is no problem. But when times get tough the danger is that people forget that these figures were just guesses and they start to try and get savings by applying the RAS in ways that are wrong.

Sadly you are not the first family I’ve helped who’ve come back to tell me that the RAS has turned out to be part of the problem – not the solution. So, here are few key points to remember:

  • Your budget needs to be enough to safely meet your needs in a way which is dignified, respectful and consistent with the law.
  • To my knowledge there is no RAS which has been tested by a scientific evaluation and which provides 100% reliable results. Any RAS, at best, produces a first guess at a reasonable budget.
  • If you have needs which are higher than normal then the RAS will be particularly unreliable as your situation will be more unique and influenced by factors that have not been included in the RAS itself.
  • If you already have an individual budget then there is no need for a RAS. The only discussion needs to be about the budget that was previously agreed and the outcomes currently being achieved. In that situation the RAS is irrelevant and dangerous.

The only legitimate role for a RAS is to help people who currently don’t have an individual budget or individual service and who need some additional information when they begin to plan. Once planning has begun then the RAS becomes redundant. Once support is in place then the RAS is redundant.

It’s like using one of those measures in a shoe shop that tell you what size of foot you have. It’s useful, in that it helps you get roughly the right shoe size. It saves you from trying on every size of shoe. But once you’ve got a shoe on then the feel of that shoe on your foot will determines whether it’s the right size or not. You wouldn’t think much of a shop assistant who kept telling you that the shoe ‘should fit’ because the foot measure says its right.

I hope this is helpful. You are very welcome to share it with the Council or with anyone else.

Best wishes

Simon