Major differences revealed in how local authorities in the UK support disabled people

Diverse local authority policies and practices throughout the UK are making big differences to the uptake and operation of ‘direct payments’– a system for supporting people who are receiving community care by enabling them to ‘purchase’ their own care. New research from the Economic and Social Research Council reveals that direct payments are being operated, and experienced, very differently in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Direct payments are funds paid by local authorities directly to disabled people, and other community care service users, to buy-in their own support, usually this takes the form of employing personal care assistants.

The payments, first introduced in 1997, have been controversial. Some have seen them as a covert means of privatising the delivery of public sector services, whilst for others they represent an important means of empowering those at the margins, of society by involving them as ‘co-producers’ of their services.

The research team, led by Professor Sheila Riddell of Edinburgh University, found:

The uptake of direct payments varied greatly between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In 2003-04, they found a total of 18 authorities making no use whatsoever of direct payments – of these, 11 were in Scotland, five in Wales and two in Northern Ireland. In England, all local authorities used direct payments. In some parts of Scotland, on the other hand, union resistance, and the identification of direct payments with ‘creeping privatisation’, has had a negative effect on their uptake. Throughout the UK, in areas with low take-up of direct payments, there was evidence of professional, managerial and local political resistance.

Local factors play a key role. The local culture of welfare, and the relationship between support organisations and local authorities, are important in either promoting, or inhibiting, the uptake of direct payments. Local authorities in England were far more likely to have designated direct payment officers, compared to those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Support organisations for direct payment users are changing. In England only one quarter of such organisations were seen to be user-led. There was a higher proportion of user-led support organisations in Scotland but many of these saw themselves as having a strong campaigning role and this tended to bring them into conflict with local authorities

The researchers found that questions continue to be raised as to whether direct payments are appropriate for all disabled people and community care groups, or whether some individuals, for example, older people living in socially disadvantaged circumstances, may find them too difficult to manage.

Similarly concerns were raised with the researchers about the supply, pay and conditions of work of the personal care assistants, who are now, to all intents and purposes, employed by those receiving direct payments.

Commenting on the research Professor Sheila Riddell said:

“We need to understand how the modernisation of welfare agenda is playing out in different parts of the UK, so that disabled people and others are confident about having their rights respected irrespective of their country or locality. This research helps to inform the ongoing debate about the best way to empower service users”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health, which oversees the scheme in England, said: ‘Direct payments give individuals real choice and control over the services they use. We are committed to extending direct payments to enable greater numbers of people to benefit and we launched a national toolkit in May 2007 to support English local authorities to achieve this.’

A spokesperson for the Scottish government said: “The Scottish government has already addressed many of the issues raised in this report. New national guidance published July 2007 is designed to radically increase uptake of self-directed support (direct payments) in Scotland. Individual budgets are already a reality in some council areas. The guidance sets out good practice for equalising access across Scotland so that more people who wish to can benefit from the flexibility, control and independence self-directed support can bring.”

###
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Professor Sheila Riddell at the University of Edinburgh on Tel: 0131 651 6597 or e-mail sheila.riddell@ed.ac.uk

ESRC PRESS OFFICE:
Alexandra Saxon on Tel: 01793 413032 or email: alexandra.saxon@esrc.ac.uk
Danielle Moore on Tel: 01793 413122 or email: danielle.moore@esrc.ac.uk

NOTES TO EDITORS:

1. The research team, based at Edinburgh University’s School of Education was led by Professor Sheila Riddell and also included researchers from the universities of Glasgow and Leeds.

2. The ESRC Research Project, RES-000-23-0263, was entitled “Disabled People and Direct Payments: a UK comparative study”

3. The research methodology included an analysis of official statistics, 21 in-depth interviews with key informants, 102 telephone interviews with local authority officers responsible for direct payments, a postal survey of all local authorities in the UK and eight local case studies. The research had three main aims, to:

Identify key differences in direct payment policies, implementation strategies and practices in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland and also at the variations at local level within each country.
To explore the impact of direct payments on the way that welfare services are operated and taken-up.
Examine the way local political circumstances affect how local authorities enact direct payments, and how local political factors affect local authority staff, disabled people, support workers and family members.

4. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research relevant to business, the public sector and voluntary organisations. The ESRC’s planned total expenditure in 2007-08 is £181 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

5. ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

6. The ESRC confirms the quality of its funded research by evaluating research projects through a process of peer review. The research was graded as ‘good’.

Contact: Danielle Moore
danielle.moore@esrc.ac.uk
01-793-413-312
Economic & Social Research Council

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Folllowing Rick Usher's death in December 2008, at his request in September of that year, I had agreed, as his principal contributor and an experienced journalist, to run the FMS Global News service due to his heavy commitments to music and raising research funds through this avenue. Following his sad and sudden death I hope to continue his work as he would have wished.
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