The government has confirmed that it has no objection to disabled people using part of their council-funded personal budgets to pay sex workers.
The confirmation followed the media storm created by the release of a new survey of councils by the Outsiders and the TLC Trust, which both provide advice and support around sex and disability.
The survey found only three per cent of local authorities had a policy on the use of sex workers by disabled service-users, with the same number happy for sex workers to be paid using money from a disabled person’s personal budget or other council funding.
Despite these results, nearly three-quarters of the councils said they had explicitly supported the human rights of disabled people to develop social, personal and sexual relationships.
The Outsiders and the TLC Trust said the survey showed councils were guilty of a “scandalous neglect” of disabled people’s sexual and emotional needs.
The survey was carried out using Freedom of Information Act requests of 206 local authorities across England, Scotland and Wales, of which 121 responded.
Following the survey’s publication, at least three tabloid newspapers published stories critical of the small number of councils that said they did allow disabled people to use self-directed support to access sex workers.
The Department of Health (DH) said in a statement: “Money allocated through Putting People First [the government’s personalisation programme for adult social care] should be used by councils to help people to live independently.”
But a DH spokeswoman added: “The policy is that the decision is taken locally [by the disabled person and the council] on what is best for that person and the personal budget is used in the way that is best for that person.”
Asked whether there was a DH policy that said personal budgets should not be used to pay sex workers, she said: “There would not be. It is not for us to dictate what is best for that person.”
Disability consultant Alex Cowan said: “I believe it is a legitimate goal to want sexual contact and experiences.
“It is unfair not to enable a disabled person to overcome the barriers that a non-disabled person would not face in getting sexual contact.
“Sex can be a very important part of their life, and they are entitled to make choices about what kind of support and assistance they need to have it.”
She said the goal of personalisation was for a disabled person to choose how they spend their limited personal budget to meet their needs.
Cowan added: “Disabled people have to go through a very rigorous assessment process with strong criteria about the goals of their personal budget.
“The story is about what are legitimate quality of life goals, and in my opinion, sex is a legitimate quality of life goal.”
Dr Tuppy Owens, who founded both Outsiders and TLC Trust, said she hoped the survey would encourage local authorities to develop policies on the use of sex workers.
She said managers “like to pay lip service to the idea that their service-users enjoy real choice, empowerment and freedom, so long as that does not actually include sex”.
18 August 2010