Department of Health-funded research has revealed significant differences in the number of eligible people receiving direct payments and also the hourly payment rates between councils.
The study, published yesterday by the Personal Social Services Research Unit at the London School of Economics , found “substantial variation” between direct payment arrangements across councils.
Direct payments take-up varied across client groups. People with physical or sensory impairment were the most likely to receive them while those with mental health problems were the least likely.
Direct payments were also paid at a similar rate across different groups despite the price of care varying between each sector.
The direct payments received by some client groups were also found to be substantially lower than the average prices for home care, which meant their choice of service was significantly limited.
Despite a growing consensus that direct payment users required support to achieve greater independence, the study found wide variations in funding for support services between local authorities and an 11% fall in investment in provision between 2003-5.
It said that direct payment take-up had increased to almost 42,000 since they were introduced in 1996, but this represented just a fraction of the approximately one million who were eligible.
Professor Martin Knapp, one of the report’s authors, said: “Despite the striking growth in the take-up of direct payments over the past 10 years, the varied implementation across the UK and between service user groups raises questions about social justice for people supported by social care services.”