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P.A.s in much the same way as other employers: through informal networks or formal advertisements.

Lone parents often recruited social friends or family members. They did so because they needed to maintain a sense of the house as a home rather than work place, especially as many used personal assistance to help with caring for children. However, equally importantly they felt that in these circumstances the P.A. would not question their position as a parent. Several lone parents felt that their children might be taken away and recruited people known to be allies.

Employing social friends and family created problems however. Many disabled parents found it difficult to re-configure the relationship in order to make sure that jobs got done, and some made compromises because they were unwilling to lose the valued social support that these social friends provided.

‘So we’ve been sat here for 4 hours talking, and nothing’s got done.’ (employer)

Lone parents had the least social support and needed most help with practical tasks. With a more secure position, it may be that disabled parents will feel less need to rely on recruiting these ‘safe’ personal assistants, who actually posed unexpected difficulties for them.

Gender and Households

More women than men received direct payments. This was because they often provided unpaid help to other family members and were less likely to receive help themselves. They could not take it for granted that they would be seen as the main employer by spouses. For example:

‘In the end it’s to give me respite.’ (husband)

In some instances P.A.s’ partners challenged the employer’s wishes, especially if they were used to telling their (P.A.) wives what to do.

‘We had her husband round here saying ‘don’t shout at my wife’ and really it wasn’t a thing to do with him.’ (employer)


One P.A.’s husband refused to allow his wife to support her employer on a singles dating evening, for example, and another persuaded his wife (a P.A.) to return her employer’s pension book to the post office without consultation.

Women living with others were over- represented among employers opting for an employer-employee arrangement (with the exception of some lone parents, discussed above). They placed more emphasis on making sure that the basic personal assistance tasks were completed than on the flexibility involved in a ‘paid friendship’.


Many employers would not have been able to meet potential partners and go on dates without assistance. However the presence of a P.A. was intrusive and could put off new partners.

Some P.A.s resented the appearance of a new partner, although others supported and encouraged sexual relationships. Both employers and P.A.s did what they could to minimise the intrusion but for some employers and their partners the degree of intrusion experienced jeopardised relationships. Where employers lived with partners and spouses, efforts to keep them separate were usual.

Men were more likely to view P.A.s as potential partners: three men had formed personal relationships in the past, but no women. Relationships also formed between P.A.s and family members in some instances, and where these ended it could cause friction in working arrangements with the employer.

Public Relationships

Employers did make choices about how they wanted to work with personal assistants, albeit within the constraints of sometimes unequal relationships with family members and friends. They had rather less freedom in other contexts, discussed below.

Local Authority Professionals Assessors had the power to grant or retain payments and to stipulate what funding might be used for. They often tried to offload responsibility while retaining a measure of control. Employers were very aware of the need to present an appropriate

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