Relationships with P.A.s
There is a received wisdom that a disabled person’s relationship with personal assistants should be that of an employer with employee (Vasey, 1996). The implication has been that forming a friendship is a sign of weakness or loneliness (Marfisi, 2002) and the disabled people’s movement has emphasised the importance of choice and control over support arrangements.
Likewise the 1996 Community Care (Direct Payments) Act states that employers should be ‘willing and able’ to manage direct payments, implying that formal managerial responsibility is important.
However, almost all employers and P.A.s characterised their relationships as having elements of employment and friendship. This dichotomy arose because P.A.s are contracted to do work, but they are based in the employer’s home: a private place for living.
‘You’re invading somebody’s personal space…but it’s your job.’ (personal assistant)
In the home, most employers preferred to adopt one style or the other overall: they were purposeful about their choice of ‘paid friendship’ or employment as a model for P.A. arrangements.
‘They are an employee, first and foremost. (It’s important) that she can understand why you do things in a certain way.’ (employer) Or: ‘You need to have a friendship. It’s intimate in one way because of the nature of the job. You’ve got to get on or else it won’t work.’ (employer)
There were several reasons for emphasising ‘paid friendship’. Some tasks, such as help with bathing, were more comfortable when an informal relationship existed. Secondly, where employers received assistance for many hours a week, there would have been very little sense of home life if P.A.s were not incorporated into it. Thirdly, ‘paid friendship’ also arose from an instrumental need for favours: some employers simply did not receive enough assistance hours. Several made
arrangements with P.A.s for favours (e.g. driving or other help) outside of working time, and because favours were often returned (e.g. helping P.A.’s children with homework), friendships developed.
Many family members had provided assistance to disabled people prior to direct payments and many still did. The difference was that family members no longer felt obligated to help. They did so because they felt they chose to. Disabled employers and their relatives said that they now felt they were a ‘proper’ family member. They could be confident of other people spending time with them because they wanted to, not because they had to.
‘I’m not as snappy….When I’m spending time with my mum, I’m spending time with me mum.’ (family member)
In many instances disabled employers spent less actual time with family members but the quality of relationships improved.
P.A.s and Family / Friends
‘Paid friendship’ that characterised some employer-P.A. relationships differed from ‘social friendship’. It rested on the assumption that jobs would get done (but see the section on ‘Disabled Parents’, below).
Apart from a few who needed 24 hour assistance, most employers preferred to keep social friends and P.A.s separate from one another:
‘I see my time with that circle (social friends) as being my time, on my own.’ (employer)
P.A.s kept in the background when friends or family were visiting, or employers scheduled P.A.s and visitors at different times. Those who had tried to build closer relationships changed back: too much contact between P.A.s and social friends could cause discomfort.
Parents who were part of a traditional partnership, who had older children, or whose custody of their children was not subject to potential challenge, recruited