It’s hard to find an interesting and exciting ‘mainstream’ story on Personal Budgets – until, of course, the media picks up that they can be used to pay for sex. The story that has been pretty much on the radar for the last couple of years has immediately been ‘sexed up’, quite literally.
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This weekend, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail cover the story of Personal Budgets being used by adults with disabilities to pay for sex. It is essentially exactly the same story that is covered – namely that a local authority has agreed for the use of a personal budget to pay for a 21 year old man with a learning disability (unspecified but assume that there is no question of capacity present) to have a holiday in Amsterdam which includes paying for the services of a prostitute for sex.
The information was released under the Freedom of Information Act.
I’m surprised this is news because it is something that has often been raised in training packages relating to Personal Budgets. We have been told to discuss issues that it might raise on countless occasions but the reporting in the newspapers as well as the reaction to it has made me realise sometimes, how much we live in our own worlds and that sometimes people outside judge things very differently.
Just to compound this, it is an issue that has been discussed on Carespace – a social care/work forum run by Community Care Magazine for, quite literally, months.
My personal opinion is fairly pragmatic. Theoretically I don’t see any issue with it. If someone who has access to a personal budget – it is entirely appropriate that they use the money in the way that would best meet their need. If the choice is to pay for sex then so be it. It is important to acknowledge the right that people with disabilities have to ensure that their needs are met. My concerns remain around protection for the ‘arranger’ as the personal budgets cannot be used for illegal activities and as the Telegraph points out
Paying for sex is not against the law but soliciting sexual services, kerb crawling and paying for sex with women who have been coerced into prostitution is.
There are also gender-based issues as well, partly due to the position and choice of the sex workers involved and partly because there may be an assumption made about the choices women might make as opposed to men. I also wonder if it makes a difference on the service provided depending on the worker involved. Access to sex may well be something that is judged differently by two different individuals based on their own experiences or by gender expectations.
One care manager might see access to sex as an integral part of normality and relieving frustrations and tensions while another might feel that building relationships is more fulfilling and that just by providing access to a sex, a whole new complexity and attitude to sexualising women/men might be added into the mix.
The hope would be that there is no issue of capacity involved thereby the user of these services is well able to make the decisions themselves at which point any moral viewpoint needs to be removed from the equation in the interest of user choice.
What both stories tell me is how much misunderstanding there is of the reality of personal budgets. We are constantly told about this being ‘tax payers’ money but quite honestly, I don’t see it that way at all.
Having access to a personal budget is much more tightly controlled than any benefits payment would be. One would only receive the funding by meeting the Fair Access to Care Services criteria which honestly, set the bar pretty high.
Moving away from the issue of sex in particular, the Mail says
In one year, a man from Norwich who suffers mental health problems received a holiday to Tunisia, a subscription to an internet dating site, driving lessons and expensive art materials.
This was on top of state benefits. He claimed he needed ‘some time out, some rest and a change of scenery’ after a mental breakdown.
I wonder if I’m the only one who read this (possibly, because it was in the Daily Mail) and thought – good for him, I think those are EXACTLY the kinds of things Personal Budgets should be used for. The rather snarky ‘This was on top of state benefits’ shows the problem with the Daily Mail’s reporting – it is intended to emphasise and stigmatise the cost ‘we, the taxpayers’ make on these matters when really – paying taxes gives me absolutely NO AUTHORITY to make a judgement on how someone else uses the money that they are absolutely entitled to.
Norwich City Council (who, I presume were responsible for this budget) say quite clearly that the holiday in Tunisia cost less and was more satisfying than a week in a respite care home which I can more than believe knowing the costs that these care homes charge.
Again the Mail hauls out the good, old Taxpayers’ Alliance
Matthew Elliot, chief executive of The Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: ‘Many taxpayers will be appalled and offended that money intended for social care has been used in this way.
‘What’s more, it’s deeply worrying that this scheme has been so vulnerable to these abuses.
‘It’s essential that where public funds are involved, there are the sort of checks and balances in place that prevent money being wasted in this way.’
That in my mind tells me all the problems with the interpretations. There are judgements to be made about the ‘worthiness’ of the choices that adults make about their personal care needs by ‘taxpayers’. What about the taxpayers who truly don’t give a hoot – and I suspect more of them are on my side than Matthew Elliot’s.
This is not additional money which is being provided to meet the needs of disabled adults but it is money that would have been spent under any circumstance – it’s just in these cases they are able to actually choose rather than have services dictated to them.
And as rather a mournful afterthought, I’d quite jealous of the budgets that are evidenced in these articles. Money and funding decreases dramatically when you hit 65. We barely have enough money to cover basic personal care needs, let alone trips and social activities and functions that are seen much more often in younger adults services. I know it’s because the money just isn’t there – but 65 is a very arbitrary cut off.
I wish we had more funding to play with so that it really would make a difference to the lives of the service users we work with, rather than having to manage very sparse personal care needs where 30 mins of human contact a day is seen as sufficient.
But there isn’t enough money to go round – and I can’t see things getting any better in the foreseeable future..