Social Services

Social Services is the organisation who provides the funding for my care support. It is also the gateway to many other services.

Happy New Lockdown

Happy New Lockdown! This was how my brother greeted me on his first day back at work after the Christmas Holidays and I found it so equally amusing and depressing that I just had to use it for this post. I hope everyone had the best Christmas they could and that New Year was a happy occasion for all my readers.

New years eve Fireworks
New Year’s Eve Fireworks

Recruitment

So new year same…activities! Literally! Last year I wrote about how I had lost a PA due to health problems and this year, thanks to COVID-19 I will be recruiting again. I have no idea what this will look like during lockdown but as my Mom helpfully pointed out, I have to find people to interview first! If I seem disillusioned and bitter about the process then, unfortunately, that’s an accurate picture. If any of you have any tips on how to make the recruiting process less stressful please let me know. I’m thinking of starting a support group for people who have lost carers/PA’s this year.

hands clasping
Hands clasping in support

My lockdown plan

On a more positive note, whilst I feel pretty negative about the recruitment process and Social Care in general, I’m determined that this year is the year that I get my ducks in a row! (Runaway Bride reference.) I’ve contacted The Disability Union, to assist me with getting my care package. I’ve signed up for the Lifebook Course to try and get a handle on how I want to actually live as all the assessments and stress has made it hard to see the wood for the trees. It may help or it may be new-age hype but I’m hoping for the latter. I’ll also be more active with Disability Horizons this year, writing and editing content. Check out my piece on free online courses available to stave off boredom and improve skills and knowledge during this latest lockdown.

I don’t know whether this new year equals a new me but I’m optimistic that it’s a year for change. What are your plans for this year? How are you feeling about the lockdown and the fact that there are now vaccines available?

I’d be interested to hear from you if you’ve had the COVID vaccine already. My disability whilst sometimes frustrating thankfully does not affect my health so I’m pretty far down on the list. A fact that I’m both incredibly grateful for and at the same time, I’m impatient for the world to be vaccinated so we can get back to whatever normal there is for us all. Who’s with me!?

Interview with Sam from PHB Hunters

Sam-Stickland

About Sam

Sam resides in North Wales and lives with a disability called Limb Girdle 2e Muscular Dystrophy which is a progressive condition, meaning her needs have increased/grown more complex over time. Sam is now forty and has been employing her own PA’s since she was twenty.

To begin with, she did this with the help of The Independent Living Fund, a benefit that unfortunately no longer exists. When the Independent Living Fund was scraped her local authority funded her entire care package, continuing to provide funds through her Direct Payment.

Agency workers

This worked well until Sam’s Social Worker persuaded her to use an agency to carry out her care rather than employ PA’s herself. At this point, her Social Worker applied for her to have half of her 24-hour care package funded by CHC. Sam agreed due to pressure, lack of support and her continued struggle to have a working contingency plan in place should any of her PA’s be unable to work. However, as soon as this decision was made Sam lost all autonomy and had very little or no say in how she lived her life.

Back with the Direct Payments Scheme

After a lot of battling with her local authority, Sam now employs PA’s once again through a Direct Payment, enabling her to live her life the way she wants to. She has this option as she is jointly funded by BOTH the local authority and CHC. This option is not available to those like Rhys who’s care isn’t jointly funded.

Sam campaigns with Rhys to try and ensure that all citizens in Wales, not least Rhys himself has the same freedom that she enjoys regardless of how they are funded. Below are the questions I sent to Sam after I saw their campaign on the BBC website and later on Facebook, Welsh PHB Hunters (Every human being has the right to be free.) The questions were sent before I knew she had won the right to have her Direct Payment again, which just goes to show you should always fight for your rights.

1. How long have you had your current care package?

I’d say from March, as I’ve been able to hire my own PAs since then, through a jointly funded package. However, I now believe I had a jointly funded package for almost 3 years, but I was falsely told by social services that it was CHC funded and therefore I was unable to use direct payments to employ my own staff. I now distrust my social worker and the people who are supposedly there to help us.

2. Are the agencies that are assisting you currently person-centred in your opinion? I.e. do they listen to you?

I no longer use a care agency, but can say that when I did they all said they were person-centred, but that only went so far, my views and opinions weren’t listened to when it really mattered, and they were just a business trying to fill their contract requirements any way they could.

3. Do you have any say in how your care calls are structured?

Yes, I have complete control now. I do the rotas, ok holiday, and I am in charge of all employment matters. Although I am checked in on a lot by nurses and social worker, (pre covid.)

4. What reason have you been given for the discrepancy between the assessment carried out by Social Services and the one by NHS? Needs are needs surely?

This is a Rhys question but from my perspective. My social care team really wanted the monies to come from health to save them money, they did not support me at all, and it was the health side that agreed my needs weren’t nursing as the social care team were trying to suggest.

5. How did you meet Rhys?

I was talking with Rhys and we can’t remember exactly how we found each other! It was through our fight for care and somehow we started chatting over Facebook. Since then we have spoken every day and started a long-distance romance!

6. In August, you wrote a letter to the Welsh government. Why now?

I think we both wrote letters prior to this, mine began in February, but at that time I was unaware of Rhys’ campaign. Once I connected with Rhys, I upped the ante and began to fight for PHBs as well as for the framework on legislature changes for joint funding to be made clearer. We have since written to charities, disabled organisations, magazines, MP’s and AM’s. Basically, anyone who will listen and support us.

7. Why do you think the push to use agencies is so high, are they more cost-effective? In England, agencies are more expensive than hiring your own PA’s/carers.

They generally are not cost-effective, but I believe that the social care team see them as an easy solution to them, less paperwork and less face to face work. They leave any issues to be dealt with by the agency involved, which leads to more problems for us. CHC funded care must currently use agencies in wales, hence the fight for PHBs, I believe this is to pass over any accountability to the agency instead of the NHS, and due to the work needed to change the current framework. It isn’t about what is best for us.

8. I read on your Facebook page that Direct Payments are unlawful when using CHC do you know why? Has anybody explained this?

It’s just not allowed because of the current CHC legislation. If you are jointly funded it is lawful, but it is not well known, as I found out during my fight. It needs to be clearer for users and the organisations involved.

9. How is a second lockdown affecting you?

The lockdown is hard, I miss seeing my family and my niece who’s grown so much since this all began. It obviously makes a long-distance relationship harder as we can’t travel as much. I had plans to travel this year! 😂 I worry about covid obviously but my PAs are all taking precautions to safeguard me and I appreciate that immensely. 2020 has been a hard year for everyone.

10. What does a typical day look like to you?

This is probably more Rhys, as I have a PA 24/7. I can get up at a time of my choosing; toilet, eat etc when I want. My only constraint is being in bed by midnight, as I have a sleeping night and PAs have to have 8 hrs sleep. Breaks for PAs are quite flexible depending on our plans for the day.

11. What do you do to relax?

Photoshop, and artwork. I can spend hours doing this on my computer, as it clears my mind. I love a bit of Netflix, music and days out with family or friends (pre covid). I try to study something new as often as I can, but Rhys’ campaign has kept me busy since August, so I’m only doing short courses at the moment.

12. Have you been given a reason why individual cases can’t be heard but group cases can?

I think this is just policy for the heads of departments, such as Vaughan Gething and Julie Morgan. We are encouraged to contact our local ministers.

13. Can you explain a bit more about Independent User Trusts? Why are they not suitable for your needs?

We have had difficulties with this ourselves so I’m just going to use what we currently have.

The Welsh government are proposing Independent Users Trusts (IUTs). An Independent User Trust is described ‘as a commitment on the part of trustees to manage an agreed sum of NHS money (or other resources) in a way that puts the individual at the heart of decision-making and gives them choice and control in their life’. Confused? I know I am? I ask is this clear? Because we have struggled to get a clearer definition so bear with us a little.

IUTs are in fact one of the ‘methods’ that an individual can now use to manage a personal health budget when a direct payment is not possible, AS IN WALES Right? But we are not being given the option of utilising the other methods, just an IUT.

So it’s our understanding:

• You have a team of 6 trustees almost like a syndicate.

• You get to choose who those 6 people are “how generous”.

• You speak to them, and they then speak to the NHS.

• They make a decision for you over how your care is provided, “bearing in mind it’s your care”.

• And they control the purse. “So we never, in fact, see the money ourselves.”

So, they are making us answer to a group of individuals, which granted, we can choose, but they decide and then purchase that care for us!

Is this not completely obscuring the idea of independence?

We are accountable adults, who have self-control over our own life’s, and finances! So why are they suggesting we are incapable of taking care of our care finances? The notion is completely condescending! The only thing that makes us different from everyone else, is a physical disability?

In our eyes, this means that IUTs fail to put individuals at the heart of the decision-making process, and instead take away our choice and our control over our care. Which surely we deserve? It merely mimics the same system currently in place, just given a new name… In line with the Social Model of Disability, the Welsh Government says it is committed to disabled people fulfilling their potential and achieving their ambitions and dreams, by removing barriers that get in the way of such ambitions. The Welsh governments current IUT plans are building these barriers up, rather than demolishing them, are they not?

We truly can’t understand how our own Welsh government thought it was okay, to put people who needed 24-hour care in a situation, where they don’t have any choice in who provides their care for them.

My thanks to Sam for answering my questions.

Having had several written conversations over social media with her, I have to say I completely agree that the proposed solution, Independent Users Trust’s, (IUT’s) does not give disabled people the freedom and autonomy that they are requesting. I can’t understand why a Direct Payment is available in one instance and not another! Judging from the campaign, I’m not the only one.

If you want to find out more visit the Welsh PHB Hunters Facebook page. They welcome any support, wherever you live and are currently looking for people who have experienced agency care to participate in an article they are writing. If you’re interested send them a message here.

The importance of choice and control

Firstly, thank you to all my readers and followers who have read my blog so far. I’m sorry there have been no new posts for a while but the last month or so, since I posted has been very hectic. This post is about the steps I’m taking to try and gain more choice and control in my life.

Staff equals choice

I mentioned in a previous post that my PA’s were starting soon and that I would share details with you lovely readers about my journey. My two PA’s started the week of the 17th August 2020, both seem lovely and employing them is my first step back to choice and control since COVID-19. What I didn’t count on is that the agency that I’d contracted back in March 2020 to assist me would also want to start on the 17th of August! I employed the agency while I was waiting for the paperwork on my PA’s to be processed and completed. The DBS checks took forever even before COVID-19!

People are like buses!

The week starting 17th August 2020, I had seven different people come to my house! Worse they were invited! I was putting myself through meeting these people in the hope that I’d gain freedom and control in the long run. There’s a well-known expression about buses and them all coming along at once. After eight months of having no formal care suddenly people were everywhere!

Buses

This is very positive in one way as it gets things moving. It was obvious to me at age eleven and is now even more obvious at thirty-four that I can’t rely on my family forever. They deserve choice and control as well! I’ve moved out of my family home three times in my life so far but it has never stuck permanently because of my lack of choice, control and the barriers in my way!

Money facilitates choice and control

I’m still fighting for a bigger direct payments budget. Having the money to pay people for what I actually need would go a long way to removing barriers and afford me more choice. Money does that for everyone, disabled or not. Money makes the world go round!

My petition for more money to meet my needs isn’t going anywhere. Just recently my social worker applied for the emergency COVID-19 fund as CHC, (Continuing Health Care,) isn’t currently assessing people. My social worker was told I’m not eligible and advised her to tell me to use a Shewee!

What is a Shewee?

A Shewee is a plastic device to enable women to pee standing up. Never fear lovely readers this isn’t going to become an in-depth account of my personal habits. Now I could do a whole separate post ranting about how if I could stand up I could probably transfer and not need the device in the first place! Let me know if you’re interested in reading that, but my current thinking is that I’ll bore you to death, so let me just say, in fairness, that some disabled people have apparently found it helpful.

I’ve tried it and many variations thereof and am unable to use them sadly. Not to mention that this device, if useful, would only solve one of the things I need assistance with. My Social worker has advised me to put in an official complaint and I’m still waiting for the payroll paperwork to be completed in order for my PA’s to be on my payroll and have payslips every month. This is despite the fact that they have now been working for me for almost three weeks! #DirectPaymentHeadache.

Inclusive access gives choice and control

In other, more exciting news. I’ve started writing for Access Rating as a content writer. The company is run by disabled people and they aim to improve disability access by offering businesses access audits and encouraging people to record the accessibility of the places they visit. They have created an app that enables anyone to rate venues based on how accessible they are. It’s an idea that’s been done before via review websites but this is the first app that I know of. The rating system is really easy and takes less than 30 seconds unless you really want to add detail.

I’m really excited to be working with them as it helps me influence greater change and choice for a more inclusive society. The app gives everyone the chance to have their say and is free to download. Check it out and rate your corner of the world. 🙂

Personal Health Budgets give choice and control

If you’ve checked out my Facebook page recently you’ll see that I shared a link to BBC news which tells the struggle of a man in Wales to be allowed to manage his care package through a Personal Health Budget. You can probably tell that I am not a big fan of the way Social Care is run but I was genuinely shocked to learn that Personal Health Budgets aren’t an option in Wales! They may be a headache but they do offer the most choice and control for a lot of people.

What is a Personal Health Budget?

A Personal Health Budget is different from what I currently receive as I receive Direct Payments through Social Services. As I’m asking for a bigger care package my Social Worker is trying to get me funding via CHC. If this happens my needs will be fully funded at least partially by the NHS. I could still receive my money as a Direct Payment. As things stand at the moment Rhys and others like him can’t. The NHS decides what he receives and who provides that. I’ve since reached out to Rhys and been given permission to send him some questions.

I’m curious as to how he manages in a system that, according to everything I’ve read, takes away most, if not all, of his choice and control and I’m hoping I can assist in some way. I may be in limbo in many ways but at least I can choose who assists me.

I’m so grateful for the choice and control that I do have and having that inspires me to improve things for us all. This keeps me going, especially as for the last month both my electric wheelchairs require repairs! My private Power Chair has an as yet undiagnosed technical fault and the wheelchair given me by wheelchair services has unsuitable footplates and armrests meaning I can’t leave the house in either one! I have two chairs and I only need one to be working. When I next post hopefully they will both be in working order. What was that about buses?

pig-laughter

Until next time.

Can I afford to work?

Thank you for all the comments on my last post. It’s comforting and encouraging to know that I’m not the only one experiencing what I’m going through. The accessible rooms post is coming, keep a lookout! Somehow when I sat down to write it, this happened instead.

Smiley thumbs up
Smiley face, thumbs up!

Severe Disability Premium benefit – What is it?

Wanting to work I contacted a support service. They told me that I’m better off on benefits and that I should apply for the Severe Disability Premium benefit. This is an extra £66.95 a week on top of my other benefits if I qualify. This was the first time I’d heard of this benefit and the top-up would make life easier. An individual is only eligible if they already receive certain benefits usually income-related like Income Support Allowance together with a disability benefit like Personal Independence Payment.

confused
Woman with hands up, looking confused.

Is Severe Disability Premium benefit means-tested?

Yes, it is. I’m not entitled because I have savings of over £6,000 and I live with my parent’s who aren’t on any benefits. If I had savings less than £1500 I would’ve been sent a form to fill in that asks me to declare my income.

Am I too disabled to work?

Advised by my support service that because of my needs, working would probably impact negatively on my benefits. This means I could be expected to pay for the entirety of my care package which I can’t afford! My care package still hasn’t been agreed on and no progress has been made since December!

I want to pay for myself, I don’t want to be a burden on society. My plan was and still is, to work but how can I when society seems designed to have me sitting at home, wilting from boredom? I know people with care needs do work and have care packages that give them choice and freedom. What I can’t work out is how? I’m on a roundabout that has been going around the same issues continuously for five years! I’m just not getting anywhere!

Roundabout
Black and white roundabout.

Volunteering is monitored even if it is unpaid work

I’m helping to create an access map of the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham. This will improve access to the many museums and heritage sites of this area. Currently, I’m just collecting information on the access that’s already available. We are encouraging museums to get involved in improving their access. consequently, these interesting places are accessible to more people. When I volunteer DWP have said I have to fill in a form whenever I start any work paid or unpaid.

Rainbow hands
Many rainbow hands forming a white circle.

I appreciate any thoughts/comments that you have. My post on accessible rooms will hopefully be up next week.

Should I continue writing about my life or just stick to my ideas and reviews? Let me know here.

Update: Nine Months on…

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that my first post was written in March and it is now December! I didn’t have a baby but life did get in the way so this is my way overdue update!

Naidex update

My original plan was to update this blog in time to write up my impressions of Naidex. Naidex is one of, if not the biggest disability show of the year. It showcases products, services, advice and a healthy dose of inspiration for disabled people. The main reason I haven’t updated is that I had to learn how to fix WordPress before I could use it. I also requested an increase in my Direct Payments from Social Services. Many of you know how relaxing that is! The photo below is of myself and Lee Rigby after his latest show in Birmingham, just one of the events I’ve been to this year.

Photo of Me and Lee Rigby after his show in Solihull

Equipment updated and dumb becomes smart

I contacted Remap to help me adapt my standing chair so that I could transfer into it more easily. If you can’t find a product that meets your needs then there is help out there. Remap will adapt what you already have or in some circumstances, create a new solution for you. Also, on the subject of access, I had smart lighting and heating installed along with a Gerberit wash and dry toilet in my flat. These things will help me be more comfortable and independent in my own home.

Cars and Wheelchairs

This year was also the year that my Motability car lease was up so I was kept busy researching car models that would fit me and my life in it for the next three years. I eventually chose a Fiat Doblo, passenger upfront conversion, a significant update on my previous car!

I now have two working power chairs, a month ago I didn’t have any as my privately brought, Powerchair, decided it needed repairing. Receiving my new TDX SP2 wheelchair from Birmingham Wheelchair Services means I now have a backup. In my experience support and equipment are like buses in that you wait for ages hoping for an appointment and or a piece of equipment and then everything happens at once! I’m not complaining, it feels great to know I now have a backup chair should things go pear-shaped. I’d love to hear about your own experiences.

Theatre fun

I visit my local theatre, Birmingham Hippodrome, at least twice a month. I love going to the theatre, it’s accessible and fun. Look out for more posts about my theatre adventures 🙂 I’ve seen a lot of productions in the past nine months including Kinky Boots and Hamilton.

So…

As you see it’s been a busy time. I’m planning on posting an update regularly from now on. I have my OT assessment on the 10th of December in connection with my Direct Payment budget request. Wish me luck!

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