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School of Sociology and Social Policy

FACULTY OF EDUCATION, SOCIAL SCIENCES AND LAW

Social Relationships and Disabled People: The impact of direct payments

Disabled people increasingly employ personal assistants (P.A.s) via direct payments rather than receive support from workers contracted by local authorities. This research by Sarah Woodin is the first detailed study into relationships with and between disabled employers, P.A.s, family and friends in the UK. Selected findings are that:

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    Where family members had previously provided assistance to disabled relatives, interpersonal relationships often improved substantially. Although family members continued to help disabled people with some aspects of daily living this was predominantly by common agreement, and help was usually reciprocal.

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    Friendship and employment characterised relationships between disabled employers and personal assistants. However disabled employers expressed preferences for one or the other form of relationship and working patterns reflected this.

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    Employers who exercised more autonomy in the home than others (often men, whether living with a partner or without, and women living on their own) preferred a friendship rather than employment relationship style with P.A.s where possible because it offered more flexibility.

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    Disabled parents, especially lone mothers with young children, often employed friends they had known socially before or family members. Concerns about the security of their position as a parent influenced their decisions.

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    Relationships between employers and P.A.s were influenced by a wide range of structural and contextual factors that pushed both towards employment and towards friendship. For example, outside the home, employers presented personal assistants as friends to strangers and as employees to professionals.

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    While local authorities emphasised the responsibilities of disabled people as employers, these employers often wanted to discuss their experiences of the more complex interpersonal aspects of employing P.A.s with one another.

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