Direct payments: Answering frequently asked questions

Question 02. Why direct payments?

Direct payments are a comparatively new approach to supporting disabled people to lead more independent lives and exercise choice and control over the services they receive.

These are the key principles of independent living, and are underpinned by the social model of disability that redefines disability as the disadvantages caused by society that exclude disabled people from mainstream services.

Independent living' is a philosophy and a movement of disabled people who work for equal rights and equal opportunities, self-respect and self-determination. Direct payments contribute to enabling that philosophy to become a reality.

National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL).

Independent living means support that is flexible and tailor-made for the individual, in contrast with identifying people's needs through professional assessments and other forms of community care support. (5)

Following persistent campaigning by disabled people, who had highlighted the limited nature of the support they were receiving from social services departments, the 1996 Community Care (Direct Payments) Act (6) came into effect in April 1997. This gave local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland the power (but not the duty) to make direct payments.

The 2005 Strategy Unit report 'Improving the life chances of disabled people' (7) proposes that the government should set an ambitious vision for improving the life chances of disabled people:

"By 2025, disabled people in Britain should have full opportunities and choices to improve their quality of life and will be respected and included as equal members of society."

It goes on to state that independent living should be achieved by moving progressively to individual budgets for disabled people, drawing together the services to which they are entitled and giving them greater choice over the mix of support they receive in the form of cash and/or direct provision of services. In the shorter term, measures should also be taken to improve the advice services available to disabled people and address existing problems with suitable housing and transport.

For individuals, a direct payment can mean the difference between having to live in an institutional setting and having the assistance you want to be able to live in your own home. (6)

Of course, not everyone will want to use a direct payment. But the qualities that people value from using them - choice, control and increased flexibility - need to find their way into mainstream service provision. And direct payments should be genuinely available to all eligible people. Direct payments can and do change people's lives. We want them to change many more people's lives. And to achieve this it is crucial that the voices of the people who are at the very centre of this debate - the many thousands of people who use social care services every day - are heard. (9)

A disabled person employs a personal assistant to support their own verbal communication. The personal assistant will repeat what the disabled person says for the benefit of listeners unfamiliar with the disabled person's speech pattern. The disabled person works in developing transport planning and strategy. Communication is a central part of their work and they develop visual communication techniques to support their assisted verbal communication skills in developing this work.

Example supplied by NCIL