Campaigners hope co-operative model will bring ‘real choice and control’


theweeksubCampaigners in the West Midlands are hoping to become the first in the country to set up a co-operative to help disabled people manage their personal assistants (PAs).
The co-op would arrange payment of staff, deal with tax and national insurance, arrange sickness and holiday cover, cope with disciplinary and other personnel issues, and provide training for disabled people and their staff.
Dudley Centre for Inclusive Living (DCIL), which has secured £2,000 funding from Dudley council for a feasibility study, believes a co-operative model would bring disabled people together to support each other, and allow them to “take ownership” of the new organisation.
It hopes to attract any disabled person who uses a PA, not only for their social care, but also for education, through the Access to Work scheme, and eventually through personal health budgets.
DCIL believes that a co-operative model would mean any PAs who had signed up could also work for other co-op members when not needed by their principal employer.
This would help to fill gaps caused by sickness absence and holidays, and make PA recruitment easier, particularly if the principal employer only had funding for five or ten hours of support a week.
The model would probably see one contract drawn up between the disabled employer and the co-op, and another – naming the support worker’s principal employer – between the PA and the co-op. This arrangement would also make it easier for PAs to arrange their tax affairs.
Ken McClymont, DCIL’s chair, said: “It would be a British first. It would put disabled people in charge of their own lives in a way that joined them to other disabled people instead of separating them, and would enable them to have real choices and control and to work together to improve the situation of all.
“There are enough very active disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) around the country, so I am amazed that no-one has done this before. Maybe no-one has had the bottle.”
He added: “We are at a crossroads now as disabled people. If we don’t take charge of things ourselves we may not have anything to take charge of, because of the cuts.”
But he stressed that those disabled people who joined the co-operative would “have to do their bit” and contribute to its operation.
McClymont said that a co-operative model might also provide a powerful voice for disabled people to campaign locally on disability rights issues.
So far there has been a positive reaction from the disabled people, DPOs, charities, companies and public bodies that have been involved in initial discussions.
DCIL is being supported by the user-led consultancy Linda Laurie Associates (LLA), which has been talking to disabled people who have set up similar co-operatives in Ireland and Sweden, and a national Norway co-op that has 3,500 members.
Linda Laurie, LLA’s senior partner, said: “Support services contracted by the local authorities are not providing the type of support service that they were contracted to provide 10 or 15 years ago, because local authorities are cutting the amount of money they will pay.
“Disabled people are not happy with the support service they are getting, which is very minimal.
“When they have got a vacancy [for a PA]it is taking a long time for their vacancies to be advertised and for applications to come through to them.”
She added: “DCIL know their local authority isn’t going to turn round and say, ‘We will fund a super-duper support service’… so they are taking the initiative and saying, ‘OK, we need to do it for ourselves.’
“They feel that a co-op would provide a better service because people would be able to get peer support from each other.”
29 May 2013