SCIE Report 8: Contributing on equal terms: service user involvement and the benefits system
By Michael Turner and Peter Beresford
Published October 2005
With the advent of service user participation in the development of social care services has come the recognition that service users should be paid for the work they do.
Currently, the rules on paying people who are receiving benefits (and many service users do) make payments difficult and sometimes impossible. Service users who want to make a contribution, live in fear of losing their benefits. Even those who are not paid worry that, by taking part in meetings, they might be seen as being fit to work and will lose their benefits.
This report seeks to uncover the difficulties and fears people experience in being paid for their contribution to services and those of the organisations who pay them. By revealing the issues and seeking to have them addressed, it will help in laying the foundations for proper and principled user involvement.
The report is intended for (and requested by) the Government, but will also be interesting for service users who take part in involvement and service providers who work with service users.
Messages from the report
- Most service users and service providers believe that people should be paid to take part in user involvement.
- The rules on paying people who are receiving benefits are making payments difficult and sometimes impossible.
- The rules should allow people to be paid more.
- Some rules are not very clear. For example, some people believe that those receiving Income Support cannot be paid expenses, but others think that they can.
- Service users find dealing to Jobcentre Plus difficult, as do service providers.
- People who are paid are very worried that they will lose their benefits. Those who are not paid worry that, by taking part in meetings, they might be seen as being fit to work and, as a consequence, will lose their benefits.
- There are also issues about whether paying people will mean they become employees and therefore responsible for paying taxes.
- These problems are discouraging people from taking part in user involvement.
- Many service providers are worried about whether they are paying people properly and whether they are breaking the law.
- The problems around paying people who take part in user involvement are connected to those that make it difficult for people to move from benefits into work.
- Service users who wish to be paid should be paid for their involvement and expertise.
- Government should recognise that its commitments to social inclusion, active citizenship and the increased involvement of service users in paid employment are being undermined by the operation of the benefits system. The benefits system urgently needs to be reviewed and changed.
- Getting involved in developing services helps people to gain confidence and skills that can help them to return to employment. This needs to be recognised and encouraged within the benefits system.
- Service users should not be discouraged from getting involved because of the way the benefits system works.
- There needs to be an explicit recognition that taking part in user involvement does not mean that a person is fit for work and will not lead to a review of their benefits.
- The amount that people are paid should be increased and there should be a more flexible system for assessing how much people earn.
- The levels of permitted earnings should be reviewed and revised and should be assessed over a longer period, perhaps one year. Information on permitted earnings needs to be reviewed and clarified.
- Discriminatory rules on earning should be addressed.
- The way in which Jobcentre Plus administers the rules for permitted earnings needs to be reviewed to ensure that they are consistently applied.
- Training needs to be provided to Jobcentre Plus staff to increase their understanding of user involvement.
- The treatment of user involvement under employment law should be reviewed by the relevant government departments.