Direct payments ‘corrupted’ by councils, says NCIL campaigner

Local authorities are undermining direct payments by failing to give disabled people sufficient hourly rates to cover the full cost of services, a study reveals. 

Sue Bott (right), director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said councils were “corrupting” direct payments, by using them to make cuts in social care funding. 

“Hourly rates go against the spirit of direct payments. It’s not direct payments that are at fault. It’s the way that local authorities administer them and restrict people’s choices.”

One person in the study, by the deafblind charity Sense, was given £6 an hour by her council to employ a carer for an epileptic deafblind child. When the person complained, the manager advised her to reduce the hours of care in order to pay a higher rate.

Bott said that this problem was widespread across the country.

Costs not covered
The six month study of the experiences of deafblind people, their carers and families, found that often the hourly rate of direct payments was insufficient to cover the cost of specialist staff and did not cover associated costs such as holiday or sick pay.

Other problems identified by respondents included:
* 75% were negative about the quality of council information.
* Just under a half believed they did not receive enough support services.
* 70% said it is difficult to find qualified or experienced staff. 

Many local authorities were failing to “properly implement” Department of Health guidance on direct payments (2003), said the author of the study, Simon Shaw.

Communication failure
In response, a Local Government Association spokesperson said that the cases highlighted in the study could be a “result of a failure to communicate the basis of the direct payment”.

Despite LGA claims that direct payments have been “met with overwhelming success”, some people in the study had concerns that local authorities viewed the scheme as a cheaper option. Bott described the uptake of direct payments by about 54,000 out of 1.5m services users, as “pathetic” because of this reason. 

A DH spokesperson said the government acknowledged the shortfall in suitable staff but the flexibility of direct payments enabled individuals to recruit people outside of the formal social care workforce.

More information

Sense report: Deafblind Direct consultation report


National Centre for Independent Living

Department of Health guidance on Direct Payments (2003)

Local Government Association

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