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Whose Money? Control Over Direct Payments

Sarah Woodin, University of Leeds


UK research and campaigning has focussed on access to and eligibility for direct payments but less has been said about control over the use of money once eligibility has been secured. This paper will argue that in practice, disabled employers in receipt of payments have to contest and negotiate financial matters with local authorities on a continuing basis. Employers therefore need to be 'willing and able' to not just manage direct payments but also deal with local authority personnel.

There is a long-standing view that money corrupts personal life by replacing personal bonds with calculating, rationalised ties. Alternative accounts point out the presence of social bonds in economic transactions (e.g. Granovetter, 1985). In households money is invested with social meaning and earmarked in particular ways that govern its purpose and use (Zelizer, 1997). In line this relational view, the paper will argue that in overseeing the 'earmarking' of money for particular uses, local authorities also oversee personal social relationships.

The paper will present empirical evidence of the ways that disabled employers try to circumvent local authority scrutiny of the use of allocated money and personally owned finances. A particularly effective way of doing this is the presentation of financial documentation in officially accepted forms, a measure that has implications for the support of user-led organisations such as Centres for Independent Living.

Finally, the paper will consider some contradictions in UK national policy with regard to future funding sources. On the one hand, self-assessment, choice and control by disabled people are emphasised, with personalised budgets intended as a means of further extending user choice and control over services. On the other hand, local authorities are invested with control over how personalised budgets are used. Money must be spent on activities that local authorities judge are directly or indirectly for the benefit of the disabled people and they retain the power to require disabled people to justify decisions made with regard to expenditure.

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