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Making it real or sustaining a fantasy? Personal budgets for older people

Karen West (Aston University, Birmingham, UK)
Catherine Needham (University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 10 October 2017




The purpose of this paper is to examine the current policy of extending personal budgets to older people.


In developing this explanation, the paper draws upon a species of de-centred, post-foundationalist theory which draws attention to the way in which certain narratives can sustain a longing for the implementation of policies that are ultimately unachievable. The paper also draws upon original data from an evaluation of a national ageing charity’s project to increase take-up of personal budgets.


The paper draws attention to, and seeks to explain, the paradoxical discursive positioning of older adults as “the unexceptional exception” within the general narrative of universal personalisation.

Research limitations/implications

This analytical approach can secure a different vantage point in this debate by paying closer attention to the ideological and ethical dimensions of personalisation than has been the case until now.

Practical implications

The paper contributes to the critical interrogation of the personalisation agenda, in which debate (both in academic and practitioner circles) has become highly polarised.

Social implications

The paper contributes to discussions in critical social gerontology which point to a bifurcation of later life into, on the one hand, an ageless third age and a frailed fourth age, on the other.


The paper makes clear that the discursive positioning of older people as “the unexceptional exception” risks an inadvertent ageism.



West, K. and Needham, C. (2017), "Making it real or sustaining a fantasy? Personal budgets for older people", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 37 No. 11-12, pp. 683-695.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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