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Direct Payment Employers: Challenging the social relations of support
Jennifer Harris, University of Dundee
Not only have Direct payments (DPs) made substantial changes to the way funding for social support is delivered, they have also offered the potential for a fundamental alteration to what might be called the 'social relations of support and independence'. This is particularly the case where a DP recipient employs personal assistants (PAs) and acts as an employer in the widest sense. These developments require a root and branch reconceptualisation of a number of social relations. First, the relation between the funding body and the user of DPs needs to be reconfigured. Second, the relationship between DP employers and their PAs, family carers and their wider social networks also need to be re-examined. All of these changes raise questions over the way in which DP employers have been constructed as welfare recipients in traditional policy discourses. Indeed, such a redefinition of relations might suggest that DP employers should be viewed akin to the small business community who have received, over the years, much more policy support and valorization in their quasi role of social entrepreneurs.
Crucially, DPs can instigate the development of a variety of valuable skills amongst disabled people and PAs. This paper will re-evaluate the wider benefits of DPs to include the employment, skills and financial gains that have been absent from previous evaluations. The paper will also explore the benefits accrued to wider family and social networks as a result of DP use and employment. As a consequence, enhanced skills, increased employment capital and possible gains in independent living more generally will be examined. Taken as a whole, DP employers present new challenges in our understanding of the work/welfare interface and this paper will begin the process of challenging traditional notions of work and welfare as they relate to DP employers. A point raised in the paper is that if DP employers are closely akin to small businesses, ought the funding streams to emanate from BERR rather than DoH sources as this might more purposefully take debate beyond old paternalist assumptions about disabled people and more fully reflect the economic and social contributions of disabled people.
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