Independent Living, Sex Workers

Hello and apologies for missing last week’s news. Very sadly my father in law died unexpectedly and as you can imagine we’ve been very preoccupied getting everything sorted out. He was 88 and had become severely disabled during the last four years of his life eventually needing residential care, as his wife was unable to cope physically. Thankfully they were able fund the package of care that he needed but even so we often felt very guilty about not being able to provide him with more. As the government contemplates severe financial cuts I can’t help wondering how others with less financial support will cope. The most frail and vulnerable in our society should expect the rest of us to do everything we can to care for them in their final years. We need to ensure that they and their families receive all the support they so richly deserve.
New centre for independent living leads to loss of two DPOs

Two disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) in Northamptonshire have been forced to close after a total of nearly 50 years fighting for disabled people in the county, following the loss of key council funding.

The loss of the two DPOs has highlighted issues created by the Labour government’s demand for there to be a user-led centre for independent living (CIL) in every area by 2010.

Disabled People’s Alliance Northamptonshire (DPAN) and Ability Northants were both part of a consortium of local charities that bid for the contract to run a new CIL in the county.

But the £500,000-a-year contract was won instead by a DPO from neighbouring Bedfordshire, Disability Resource Centre (DRC).

DPAN also lost out in a joint bid with other local organisations for another £500,000-a-year contract to provide advocacy services for disabled people.

This contract was awarded to the national organisation Advocacy Partners Speaking Up – which is not a user-led organisation – supported by Advocacy Alliance, which works across Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire.

As part of this reorganisation, DPAN lost out on its core funding from Northamptonshire County Council and will have to close, while Ability Northants closed at the end of March.

John Smith, DPAN’s coordinator, said losing traditional DPOs like DPAN would mean the loss of their independent “campaigning, checking role” that ensured councils were held accountable to disabled people.

Smith will probably join DPAN’s disability rights service in transferring to the new CIL, which he said had been “very good in recognising that it is a difficult situation”.

But he said many other user-led organisations that were winning contracts to run CILs were not DPOs, with many controlled by carers and other people “with an interest in disability”.

He said: “The old CILs came from the grassroots. Disabled people developed them and now local authorities are saying they want carers in their CILs. It’s a different animal.

“I think it is really important to retain that distinction, that little word ‘of’ [as in an organisation ‘of’ disabled people, rather than ‘for’ disabled people].

“We didn’t apologise that we were all disabled people. We should be assertive and say that that is the right way.”

Mick Dillon, DRC’s chief executive, said he was a wheelchair-user himself and DRC was “user-led at every level of the organisation”.

He said the new CIL had established a board of service-users to “act as our watchdog”, while 19 of its 20 staff came from Northamptonshire, and none from Bedfordshire.

But he accepted that DRC tried to “work in partnership rather than direct action”.

Dillon said DRC was hugely experienced in running direct payments and personalisation services, and said services in Northamptonshire would be “further improved”, building on DPAN’s work and its “wealth of experience”.

He added: “I am happy to be judged on my results.”

A council spokeswoman said the new CIL would “bring both improved services and a wider range of services than ever before for disabled people in the county”, while “local disabled people, carers and those who support disabled people” would have “a direct involvement” in how the service was run.
Government gives personal budget approval for sex workers

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”.

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Author: PhilFriend

Dr Phil Friend (OBE FRSA) himself a wheelchair user, is acknowledged as the UK's foremost consultant on disability matters. A powerful and highly popular communicator, his company – Phil & Friends – has provided consultancy to many of the country's best-known companies. In addition to his professional activities, he is also a respected champion for equal opportunities and diversity in general, where his special blend of humour and direct speaking has won admirers from around the world.

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