‘Personalisation’ is without question the dominating idea and development currently in social work and social care. In England, it has had a high profile since the publication of the government’s Putting people first in 2007 (HM Government, 2007), and the likelihood is that it will remain so in the UK for the foreseeable future. All three mainstream political parties have signed up to the idea of ‘personalisation’. It has become an article of faith for the English Department of Health and numerous consultancies and pressure groups work to advance its implementation.

Yet, ‘personalisation’ is a term that has no clear or agreed meaning and does not have a place in many established dictionaries. Many of its strongest critics have been service users and their organisations, and practitioners and their trade unions, although, ironically, among the major claims made for it are that it will improve service users’ lives and restore professional practice to its original progressive value base.

Whatever we may think of ‘personalisation’, those concerned with social work, social care and health must grapple with it because it is now increasingly shaping both the conceptual frameworks of these fields and their day-to-day professional and occupational practice. So, whether our starting point is as helping professionals, students, managers, educators, researchers, service users or carers, we need to make sense of this development to understand how it may affect us and how we may negotiate and respond to it most helpfully. A key aim of this article is to help readers to do this.

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