Unison: Let councils employ PAs to protect working conditions

Personal assistants should be employed by local authorities rather than direct payment users to protect their working conditions, a Unison-commissioned report said this week.

This could also encourage greater take-up of direct payments, according to the report, which emphasised that not all personal budget holders and direct payment users wanted the responsibility of being an employer.

It recommended that, at the very least, direct payment users needed better guidance about their responsibilities and reasonable demands as employers through a range of standard contracts produced by local authorities.

This follows concerns about possible exploitation of personal assistants by their employers on pay and hours.

The report, Who Cares: Who Pays?, by Bristol University and Open University academics, added that personal assistants should be regulated and recommended the setting up of a care association to provide peer support for PAs and help fund training and sickness cover.

The study also raised concerns that the development of the personalisation agenda could render collective services, such as day centres, unviable as individual service users take their money elsewhere.

It called for local authorities to set aside a “specific budget” to protect these services because they helped older people and some younger disabled people overcome isolation.

Recent research by think-tank Demos found that personal budget holders still enjoyed the use of day centres, hinting at the need for councils to continue to provide these, alongside new provision, at least in the short term.

Among other recommendations, the Unison report said higher taxes would be needed to “pay for a social care system that reaches all” and urged better training and pay for social care staff.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Rushing personalised budgets through, without enough funding, means risking long-term choice, losing valued local services such as day centres and community transport. Choice must be maintained, so that people who do not want to step into the role of employer can still get good quality, locally provided care.”

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