5 Audio clip 4: Sarah Fletcher
At the time of the interview, Sarah Fletcher was 23 and disabled. She had just finished her degree in Social Policy at Loughborough University, and was taking a Masters' degree in European Studies, part time. She lived in a hall on campus, and got direct payments to fund 22 hours a week of care and assistance.
Sarah had a car and an electric scooter. Her car and wheelchair made it less tiring to travel to lectures around Loughborough's big campus. She wasn't eligible for an allowance from the Independent Living Fund, but she did have a grant from the Snowdon Award Scheme (for disabled people over the age of 16). This helped to pay for help with taking notes. She was also able to get extra help with academic work if needed.
At home, Sarah used her direct payment to pay family friends to help her. At university, she used a scheme run by the charity Community Service Volunteers (CSV). CSV ran a scheme for people aged between 16 and 35, who were interested in being full-time volunteers in health and social care. Projects included placements with adults with learning difficulties, young people at risk, and families in need. These required a commitment of between four and 12 months. In return for helping, volunteers received free accommodation, free food and a weekly allowance, induction and support as well as back-up from CSV. Sarah paid the university, which then passed on an allowance to the volunteers.
Sarah explained that using CSV volunteers was cheaper for her. Because she used the university scheme, she could save up some of her hours and use what was left from her direct payment funding to pay other helpers when she was at home. She paid £5.20 an hour, which she thought less than she would be paying through an agency. The CSVs got an allowance of £26.50, and their accommodation and food paid for. The balance of the payment went to CSV to cover administrative costs.
Sarah liked the CSV volunteers because they tended to be students like herself, and flexible in their attitude to working with her. Using the CSV scheme also meant she didn’t have to do any of the interviewing. That side of the work was done for her. However, the system didn't always work in the way she wanted. When it came to matching volunteers with users, she and the other disabled students were each sent a profile of someone who was offering to volunteer. If they turned someone down, they had to wait for another profile to be sent, which meant that sometimes the beginning of term got dangerously close while they were deciding. She also found that some volunteers didn't always match up to the details supplied. One of the CSVs she was working with was able to drive but, coming from Japan wasn't used to British-style roundabouts, so wasn't keen to drive Sarah to places off-campus. She and another student were looking into a scheme they had seen advertised in the Students' Union for driving and escorting. She had had a reply from someone who could help her for another five or six hours a week. In these ways she managed to get the help and support, eking out her direct payment funding.
Getting the direct payment in the first place wasn't straightforward. She was able to get help from the Derby Centre for Integrated Living, with things such as a form for assistants to sign which made it clear that the payments she was making included National Insurance contributions. This meant she could avoid the difficulties of having to calculate tax and insurance for the people who worked for her. Apart from that, there had been problems with her Social Services department's definition of what she needed the direct payments to pay for. For example, it was not prepared to pay for time spent getting to and from lectures, as this was deemed ‘academic’. Sarah had a struggle to persuade them that getting to social activities should also be included in her assessment.
Variations in direct payments policies meant that, while she was lucky with Derbyshire, which allowed her to ‘bank up’ her hours, other service users from neighbouring local authorities found that they lost any hours they didn't use up from their weekly allocation.
If you're ill sometime, you might need more hours over the week than you normally do. And, if they're off sick, you might be, you know, paying their hours anyway. But you'd need to pay somebody else as well.