Groups hopeful as Unison changes tack on direct payments in Scotland

Unison in Scotland is in talks with independent living groups as it considers softening its stance on direct payments.

The union fears direct payments increase the risks to vulnerable clients and threaten the jobs of care staff. The purpose of the meetings with supporters of the scheme is to draw up a new policy endorsing it.

If an agreement is reached, personal assistants (PAs) employed by direct payment recipients would be able to join the union.

The groups say initial talks have been encouraging, although Unison’s insistence that PAs are regulated by the Care Commission may prove contentious.

Hazel Farley, manager at the Lothian Centre for Independent Living, said: “Unison is entrenched in [its stance on] protection of vulnerable adults, which doesn’t fit with the independent living movement.”

Peter Brawley, manager of the Scottish Personal Assistant Employers Network, said direct payments empowered disabled people but admitted increased take-up could threaten the jobs of care staff.

He added: “We don’t want that but the human rights of disabled people should not be at the mercy of keeping people in jobs.

We will be creating employment and some people will always need social workers.”

A Unison spokesperson said: “We are meeting the organisations to discuss ways to ensure that the interests of our members and those of people using direct payments can both be served better. We will be able to make any agreement public when it is finalised.”

Unison has been struggling for some time to establish a firm position on direct payments.

In June, Chris Tansley, chair of the union’s national social services forum, warned that Unison must stop “sticking its head in the sand” on direct payments or it would fail to influence development of the policy.

Union’s hopes and fears
Unison is concerned that direct payments could increase risks to vulnerable people and also put jobs in danger.
It wants personal assistants employed by direct payment recipients to be regulated by Scotland’s Care Commission.

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