Rates of pay for personal assistants (PAs) are so low that local authorities could be in breach of their legal duties to families with disabled children, according to new research by Leeds University.
Results of a survey of families found the average gross* hourly weekday rate they received from their local council to pay a PA was just £8.90.
It found that almost all PAs were paid at rates “near or just above the minimum wage”, and that many families said these rates were too low to recruit suitable PAs, even though their local authority was willing to pay much higher rates for agency staff.
Of 256 responses from families, there was just one report of a council increasing pay rates to make it easier to recruit a PA.
The report says its findings “strongly suggest that there is a severe market failure in many local authority areas”, with councils “arguably in breach of their statutory and public law obligations to families with disabled children”.
Even securing an assessment of a disabled child’s needs was often a “matter of chance”, with some families learning about services only “through word of mouth” and some waiting up to two years for an assessment.
One parent who responded to the survey said: “At the moment it would seem the whole system is collapsing from health, education and social services.
“I just keep getting told there is nothing else they can offer me, and there are no funds to help us.”
More than half of the families that responded said the amount of direct payments they received was not enough to cover all their child’s needs that had been identified by their local council.
The report concludes: “Strict rationing of resources is resulting in families experiencing stress, an acute lack of support and prolonged ‘battles’ to secure basic services that they are entitled to by law.”
Alongside the survey, freedom of information requests were sent to 60 English councils with social services responsibilities.
They reported an average gross standard hourly rate of £10.57, slightly higher than the £8.90 reported by the survey of families.
The report says there are “deep levels of dissatisfaction” with the way that direct payments are run by local authorities.
And it says there is an “urgent need” for the government to carry out a “fundamental review” of the direct payments scheme.
It says the research suggests that health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has a public law duty to address the failings, while similar action may be necessary in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson declined to comment on the report, the findings on rates of pay for PAs, the concerns about market failure, or the call for a fundamental review of direct payments.
Instead, he issued a statement about personal budgets, which are different from direct payments**.
He said: “People can benefit from much greater choice, flexibility and control over their health and care support with personal budgets.
“Local authorities are responsible for providing high-quality personal budgets that best meet people’s needs, and we are working to improve access, including supporting guidance to ensure individual choice is not limited.
“We have given local authorities access to up to £3.9 billion more dedicated funding for adult social care this year, and a further £410 million is available for adults and children’s services.
“We will set out our plans to reform the social care system at the earliest opportunity to ensure it is sustainable for the future.”
The research was carried out by students at Leeds University’s School of Law, working with Cerebra, a charity for children with neurological conditions, under the supervision of Professor Luke Clements.
It is part of the Legal Entitlements and Problem-Solving Project, based at the School of Law, and set up by Cerebra in 2014 to support disabled children and their families experiencing problems in accessing their legal entitlements to care and support.
The report will soon be available from the university’s Cerebra research programme home page
*The gross figure is how much the family is allocated to pay its PA before any extra employment costs – such as national insurance, holiday and sickness pay – have been deducted
**Direct payments are one particular way of spending a personal budget
Picture: DHSC’s offices in Whitehall
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…