Abuse fear grows as Ladyman rejects further controls over direct payments

    If a single word could be used to sum up the thrust of Stephen
    Ladyman’s policies it would be “independence”.

    Since his appointment as community care minister in 2003 he has
    consistently promoted a message of independence and choice. And the
    eagerly-anticipated adult green paper, due any day, is expected to
    have at its heart a drive to increase service users’ independence,
    chiefly through direct payments and personalised budgets.

    Until now, Ladyman’s commitment to independence and choice has been
    welcomed. But his refusal last week to insist that councils help
    service users use their direct payments to buy only services that
    are regulated and checked is sure to have left some asking if he
    has gone too far.

    His determination not to undermine independence is laudable and
    well-intentioned. But is there a danger that, in giving service
    users the choice to select any provider they wish – regulated or
    not – Ladyman will instead be making it too easy for abusers to
    enter the lives of vulnerable people?

    Kathryn Stone, director of learning difficulty charity Voice UK,
    says the decision is “very, very risky and wholly
    irresponsible”.
    “The whole argument is about people being able to make an informed
    choice,” she says. “Unless people have all the information, how can
    they make a proper choice?”

    Stone says all the government needs to do is publish a checklist
    for people that would include basic tips, such as what to look out
    for in prospective employees’ references, so they can be confident
    the person they are employing is a good one

    Employment law and the accompanying Protection of Vulnerable Adults
    list and Criminal Records Bureau checks are considered a minefield
    for service users and their carers who are responsible for hiring
    help.

    Voice UK’s chair Raymond Pope, whose 25-year-old daughter has
    Down’s syndrome and was abused in respite care, adds: “We know that
    the people who abuse our sons and daughters are really smart
    cookies.” He insists some simple assistance could help people
    choose a safe provider.

    But Rachel Childs, policy officer in community health and social
    care at Help The Aged, says the charity sees the argument as more
    complex.

    “The whole point about direct payments is they promote
    independence. If you then impose compulsory checks, that is going
    against that choice. Many older people employ relatives. Are we
    really saying that we want every older person to get a check on
    someone before they can employ them?”

    Arguing that life has inherent risks, she adds: “It would be
    patronising to have a system where there is no degree of
    risk.”

    For Mencap’s head of external relations David Congdon, though, the
    opportunities for abusers are far too great to make checks
    optional.

    “It is a bit odd that the regulations in residential care are
    becoming tighter. They have staff and other groups of people
    around. But when a worker is in somebody’s home, who is looking in
    then?”

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