Campaigners fear that direct payment users’ independence may be compromised by bill changes, writes Simeon Brody
A Liberal Democrat amendment to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill has reignited the debate on the balance between independence and protection for service users (Lib Dems strive to toughen up bill and protect direct payment users, April 20).
Baronesses Walmsley and Sharp have proposed that direct payment recipients should be compelled to check employees against the vetting and barring list the bill proposes to introduce for people working with vulnerable adults.
As the bill stands, they would merely have the option of making checks, prompting warnings they will attract unsuitable people.
There are fears, particularly among organisations led by service users, that the amendment would undermine the independence of people using direct payments.
National Centre for Independent Living co-chair Menghi Mulchandani says: “The whole point of direct payments is to give choice and control to people.”
She says that compelling people to check potential carers against a list of barred people would deny them the opportunity to take the risks others are free to take.
Mulchandani says she would like to see service users offered training to help them understand the risks of employing people.
One of the problems with compulsion may be the broad definition of vulnerability in the bill, encompassing adults considered vulnerable because of their age, disability or health problem.
Liz Sayce, director of policy and communications at the Disability Rights Commission, says checks should only be compulsory where mental capacity is an issue.
She argues: “Blanket definitions of vulnerable people run the risk of deeming all disabled people as accidents waiting to happen and place mitigating risk above their choice, dignity and independence.”
There are also fears extra bureaucracy will adversely affect the still low take-up of direct payments.
Even groups specifically campaigning against the abuse of vulnerable adults oppose compulsion.
Patricia Grant, director of the Practitioner Alliance Against Abuse of Vulnerable Adults, accepts that unsuitable people will gravitate towards direct payment users. But she says people may be employing family members or friends, and forcing them to carry out checks would not be right.
She suggests agencies work with vulnerable groups and make clear their responsibilities as employers.
Richard Curen, director of Respond, which supports people with learning difficulties who have been sexually abused, suggests a compromise in which direct payment recipients can opt out of making checks.
He adds: “Councils should be under a strict duty to inform direct payment recipients about checks and how to refer people to the vetting and barring scheme.”
But direct payment users and their employees may not be able to avoid greater regulation in the long term. The General Social Care Council says it intends to consult on plans to register personal assistants employed directly by service users.
Grant says registration would improve the standards and status of what is low-paid work and could bring requirements for professional training in areas such as lifting and handling and adult protection awareness.
But for Mulchandani the idea of registration, like compulsory checks, moves the system away from the “rights and responsibilities” ethos of direct payments. “The more barriers we put in front [of people], the more difficult we are making it for people to manage direct payments.”