Alarmist coverage about the use of direct payments for sex could make social workers’ jobs tougher and endanger council funding for disabled people, experts warn.
The news that four councils supported disabled people using personal budgets for lap dances, sex workers or sex tourism to Amsterdam was reported as a misuse of taxpayers’ money in the Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express.
A freedom of information request by disabled sex campaign organisation TLC Trusts surveyed 121 councils and found four that condoned the use of personal budgets to pay for sex workers.
The results of the investigation were reported by Community Care last week in an in-depth look at the use of personal budgets to pay for sex.
The press coverage will make social workers’ jobs more difficult, warned Ruth Cartwright, the British Association of Social Workers’ joint manager for England.
“Local authorities that might have been persuaded by the Community Care article are now going to shy away from it,” she said
She added that social workers may have to tell service users to stop using sexual services in cases where councils had been previously sympathetic.
There were also warnings that the news coverage would put social care services for disabled people at risk of cuts by councils.
Neil Coyle, head of policy at Disability Alliance, said: “My overriding concern is that some people who read this will come to the conclusion that social services funding is being used in a improper way and, in the current climate, is ripe for cuts.”
Tuppy Owens, founder of TLC trusts, said: “It would be awful if it endangered personal budgets as a whole.”
Simon Stevens, service user and independent disability consultant, said one of the aims of personalisation was to allow disabled people to be open with social workers. He added: “If the right wing media are going to punish disabled people for being open about that they do then disabled people will learn what to say and what not to say.”
The government has stood by local authorities’ right to make their own decisions on the issue. A Department of Health spokesperson said money allocated to councils should be used “to help people to live independently”.
The debate about the use of personal budgets for sex, a legally grey area, has been raging on CareSpace for several months.