Direct Payments: the disparities between local authorities – Disability Horizons

Chris Cusack, who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), examines how Direct Payments and the level of care people are getting differs vastly between local authorities – it really does seem to be a postcode lottery.

In England, social care provision has undergone radical changes over recent years. In the early 1990s, the money needed to cover people’s physical care (currently called Direct Payments, which will become Personal Independent Payments) was funded by each person’s local authority and a central government body called the Independent Living Fund. However, thanks to our seemingly perpetual state of austerity, there has been a decentralisation of services – and now a massive disparity in the services provided.

These changes began, as all things do, with good intentions. With the quest to allow different regions to be more proactive with their own budgets and to meet regional differences in demand. However, there is a growing sense of worry. No, worry is not a strong enough word. A sense of persecution and anger amongst disabled people at the practical consequences of these changes.

The Care Act

The Care Act was introduced in England in 2015 and attempted to set out the responsibilities of local authorities after the decentralisation. It stated that local authorities were charged with “promoting an individual’s well-being,” rather than simply providing care.

It’s been just under three years since this act came into force and, in reality, the subsequent systems put in place appears to not be up to the task in large areas of the country. In a report published by In Control on behalf of the Independent Living Strategy Group, 58% of respondents reported that their quality of life had reduced, or reduced significantly, over the preceding 12 months.

The same report said that a quarter of respondents had stated that the hours of work or volunteering they could do had reduced significantly as a result of changes in their care. This comes at a time when the government is keen to get every capable adult into the workforce, both for the health of the economy and for the individual’s positive sense of self.

Independent Living Fund

After the Care Act, the money previously ring-fenced and used by the Independent Living Fund was distributed amongst local authorities. However, these local authorities have very large disparities in the number of disabled people falling within their boundaries.

They also do not have the economies of scale that the Independent Living Fund had and therefore have far larger administrative costs. This has all served to put a severe financial burden on some already struggling councils.

The best way to illustrate the end result of these changes is not through statistics and statutes, but to show the human effects through two cases – my own and that of a friend.

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