The Simon Heng Column A service user’s view of social care

A few months ago, I wrote about my first experiences with direct
payments. Some of you may remember that I was rather negative, even
cynical about the scheme. I concluded that direct payments were a
way of shifting the burden of administration of care onto
individuals who were ill-prepared to act as employers, in terms of
understanding employment law, health and safety, appropriate
insurance, book-keeping skills, and in being prepared to deal with
the Inland Revenue. I could easily have argued that this was
privatisation through the back door.

Well, I’ve changed my mind.

Having used the scheme for more than six months and been through my
first major staff turnover, I have found that it doesn’t have to be
such a nightmare after all.

One of the greatest revelations was the degree of help available
from the Inland Revenue. When I contacted my local tax office, the
new employers unit not only sent out literature that was
straightforward and easy to follow, but also offered to visit my
home to guide me through the first few months of form-filling.

Now that I’ve got my spreadsheets and record keeping straight, I
make only the occasional mistake, for which my carers have
generously forgiven me. If other service users were given the kind
of select tools that I have had to invent – and training in how to
use them – I would feel more confident that more people could use
the scheme to their advantage. Maybe there’s a marketing
opportunity hereÉ

I have also discovered how ingenious people can be. In the course
of talking to other people about how they have coped, I’ve come
across a multitude of ways of spreading the load between support
agencies created by social services departments, family members and
carers themselves.

The main thing that many service users say that they want most of
all is to be taken seriously. The revelation, for me, of using
direct payments has been to realise that with rights (like the
right to direct one’s own care) come responsibilities. But when it
starts, it’s still a frightening prospect.

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