North Yorkshire County Council has acknowledged it “needs to do better” in ensuring disabled people who need social care and support are offered personal budgets to spend after it emerged the amount of vulnerable people receiving direct payments had dropped sharply.
The council’s care and independence scrutiny committee heard while studies had revealed direct payments made a significant positive difference to people’s lives the take-up of the payments had fallen from 400 requests in 2018-2019 to about 270 requests last year.
Direct payments were introduced under the Community Care Act some 25 years ago for disabled people with eligible assessed needs with the aim of making an important contribution to their independence, wellbeing and quality of life.
The payments are viewed by many as a simple and personalised way to receive care and can be used to fund anything from social activities to specialist equipment to care.
Officers told members how the county had supported 952 adults to manage direct payments two years ago, but by the end of the last financial year those receiving the help had fallen to 790, leaving “room for improvement”.
The concerns come two years after the committee concluded that while the council’s staff supported the direct payments system well, take-up was well below the amount wanted.
The meeting also heard a gulf existed between the national average proportion of people who receive direct payments and the proportion of North Yorkshire residents who did.
As councillors heard the authority was forecasting the number of payments to drop further, an officer added: “We realise that we need to do better.”
The meeting heard the number of employers who were using direct payments to contract personal assistants had fallen, meaning the council was spending more as it was left contracting a care provider.
In addition, officer said the direct payments situation was being exacerbated by a difficulty in recruiting personal assistants, partly due to low rates of pay for carers and also by a perception among some firms that managing direct payments involved a lot of red tape.
However, councillors were told the government’s minimum living wage increase of 2.2 per cent this year had led the authority to increase the amount it paid to personal assistants from direct payments by 3.5 per cent “as a means of showing our appreciation and recognition of how important the work of a personal assistant is”.
Officers admitted while its staff had “lost focus” on highlighting the available direct payments, they had introduced actions to promote the funding support as well as a scheme to take the burden of employing a personal assistant away from employers.
Nidderdale councillor Stanley Lumley described the figures as “disappointing”. He said: “I think there may be people who are under the radar. We can all relate to individuals in our communities that perhaps aren’t in the system that perhaps should be in the system and they are at risk of being lost.”
Councillor Karin Sedgwick, the committee’s chair, said the council needed to examine how it could better promote direct payments and called for doctors surgeries and community hubs be used to increase awareness of the funds.