While Personal Assistants (PAs) are a vital part of the lives of many people living with disabilities, during the pandemic this support was needed more than ever. While many of us were trapped in our homes, our PAs continued to work offering their usual personal care, undertaking tasks around the home, as well as access to shopping/medication. Most importantly they were a link to the outside world during a time many of us were very isolated. These PAs were classified as keyworkers which acknowledged the risk they faced during this time and the fact they are essential workers.
However it frequently feels this support isn’t valued or appreciated on a wider level. Their role in society is largely unacknowledged, with many people not understanding the work and function that PAs carry out. While many companies during lockdown offered NHS staff and carers added benefits – this often wasn’t extended to PAs, who were carrying out similar work.
In recognition of the work of PAs during the pandemic both the Welsh and Scottish government recently announced that they have set up a bonus scheme. The Scottish government are giving PAs £500 before tax, and the Welsh £735 so that £500 is received after tax. Yet PAs in England have not been offered any kind of bonus.
We spoke to Debbie, a PA who works in England, and asked her how she felt about this. After hearing about the bonus she said, “It feels like Scotland and Wales value their PAs more and are acknowledging the work PAs have carried out.” She went on to talk about the wage stagnation that has occurred for PAs during the last 10-15 years by saying, “Wages for PAs have been just above minimum wage for such a long time and there have been added costs during the pandemic we have had to absorb. We were classed as a keyworker and acknowledged in that way, but afterwards it feels the work we did wasn’t recognised. People already don’t understand the role of a PA. It makes me feel used without recognition from the government.”
Sadly this isn’t the only scheme of its kind that PAs have been left out of.
In 2008 the Blue Light Card was set up to give discounts to employees within the emergency services, the NHS, the social care sector and armed forces.
We spoke to two of our members about their experiences with the Blue Light Card. When they enquired about whether PAs could, they were told they were not included in the scheme.
Sally, who works as a PA tried to register in July this year and was told PAs who work for individual employers are not eligible for the scheme unless they work directly for the local council. Her response reiterated that she was paid by the local council, just via a Personal Budget/Direct Payment. Sally pointed out that a large part of the workforce was being ignored with this policy. She stated, “Why are these huge army of care workers who worked tirelessly throughout Covid being ignored? Personalisation of health and social care services that gives true choice and control to people who draw on health and social care is totally valid and their support workers need to be seen as equals to every other person who works within the care system. This is a real issue that needs addressing.”
Sadly her concerns were brushed aside with the reasoning given that to submit a payslip and contract would break GDPR. Yet eligibility for every other profession is also determined in this way, so why should PAs be excluded because work for individual disabled employers?
Sally explained how being rejected from the scheme made her feel. “I have to say it made me feel under-appreciated in this pandemic. I wasn’t furloughed and worked throughout the worst of the crisis, yet everywhere I go I am told all of these recognition reward cards ‘aren’t for you’. It really devalues and demotivates the PA workforce and it’s just not fair!”
This is why it’s vital for individual employers to have a voice within government – something which is currently lacking. We hope in time the Independent Living Group will be able to point out these inequalities and for PAs to be seen as a recognised and vital part of the Health and Social Care workforce in this country.