One of the things that infuriate service users almost more than anything else – it’s certainly one of the most frequent topics of conversation when groups get together – are charging policies.
The usual complaint goes something like this: “When they reassessed my care package, they wanted me to contribute £75 (or £45) every week towards the cost! Do they think I’m made of money? They ignored the fact that I only have my benefits to live on!” or “I’m being charged for the transport to and from the day centre – how can I afford this?”
The fact is, people don’t realise that some of the benefits they have been awarded, not just disability living allowance, but also the added benefits, like the severe disability premium, are supposed to help towards the costs of care.
The Department for Work and Pensions certainly doesn’t make it clear that this is what these supplements are intended for at the time they are awarded – the obvious exception is the care component of the disability living allowance; the clue is in the title.
Many people have assumed that these “top up” benefits are either there to pay for the hidden costs of disability – extra clothing, laundry, heating and transport, for example, or that they have been awarded this money as compensation for not being able to earn a living.
Many people, many families with disabled children, have often been receiving this “extra” income for some time before they have been required to contribute to the cost of care.
Soon these small pots of money get absorbed into the general family expenditure. How these hard-up families cope when they have to contribute towards care is anyone’s guess.
Often, people don’t feel able to challenge the charges in their care assessments. Decisions have been made, but not explained, and service users and carers bear hidden, simmering resentments towards the social work profession: my guess is that many social workers aren’t aware that they have been blamed for something that isn’t even their fault.