The personal assistants employed by disabled people help with tasks such as travel, writing and communications, in addition to providing personal care. They come with a variety of skills, which are very much dependent on the unique needs of the disabled person. They are a growing workforce within the wider social care workforce, particularly as more disabled people live independently and are in need of personalised support to enable them to learn, work and live their own lives.
Personal assistants are partially or wholly funded by the state, either from personal social care budgets or from personal health budgets. Direct payments—personal social care budgets—were first introduced for adults in 1997 by the Community Care (Direct Payments) Act 1996, and for older people in 2000. The Care Act 2014 made it mandatory for local authorities to provide direct payments to individuals who needed and were eligible to receive them.
In 2015, the Department of Health defined a direct payment as follows:
“A payment of money from the local authority to either the person needing care and support, or to someone else acting on their behalf, to pay for the cost of arranging all or part of their own support. This ensures the adult can take full control over their own care.”
That gives considerable discretion to the person in receipt of the budget as to how they deploy it, but many people use it, in whole or in part, to employ a personal assistant to enable them to live an independent life.
After a fairly slow start, the number of people receiving direct payments increased rapidly, from 65,000 in 2008 to 235,000 in 2014. Many of those adults chose directly to employ their own staff rather than use traditional adult social care services. Skills for Care estimates that, by 2016, around 70,000 of the 235,000 adults and older people receiving a direct payment employed their own staff directly, creating around 145,000 personal assistant jobs between them. Until that point, however, relatively little was known about the make-up of that part of the adult social care sector workforce.
Skills for Care has conducted new research into this subject, and we now know that there are approximately 200,000 personal assistants working in the UK. That figure is based on information from the national minimum dataset collected by Skills for Care and on the number of people in England using personal health budgets to employ personal assistants. We also know that, in 2018, 8% of the total social care workforce were non-UK nationals. The exact figures for personal assistants are not known, but it is fair to assume that a similar percentage applies.