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He Who Pays The Advocate, Calls The …….

August 3, 2012

Yesterday, there was an intriguing comment left on my blog from a man who lives in the same borough as me. Basically, back in June, he wanted to book a place on the annual local carer’s conference, organised and run by our local authority. He contacted the LA to arrange a place but was told that the bookings must be done through our local carers organisation. He did this but was told however, that as he is not a member of the carers organisation, he was not entitled to a place.

Whys has this stirred me into writing? I belong to several carers groups and forums and one theme that has cropped up with depressing regularity over the past couple of years is how the many large and local carers and disabled organisations that exist, seem to have become increasingly detached from serving the needs of the people they were set up to represent – the carers and the disabled.

If you look at any of the large organisation’s websites, you will see them declare advocacy and support as two of their main services. So, why does it feel that these organisations have become more remote when the need for their advocacy input has never been greater.

When I was in the midst of my battle in 2010, I approached all the major organisations for help: the NAS, Mencap, Carers Uk etc. I also contacted all my local ones as well. None of them were able to offer any help. In fact, it was the local organisations that felt the most cold towards my desperate pleas for help. Funnily enough, once the final judgement had been handed down, all the national organisations made a statement about the case, along the lines of how awful it had been that such a thing could happen; how difficult it had been for me to find support and what a landmark moment this was for disabled people. Perhaps that’s what their role is now: to proclaim rather than to provide.

I remember walking past my local carer’s office last year and seeing a huge poster in the window, celebrating its partnership with the Local Authority. I felt uneasy. I’m not saying for one moment that the authorities and the local groups shouldn’t work together – that would be completely counter productive. But I do question whether a client can receive truly independent advocacy when these organisations have such close relationships.

Lots of local authorities farm out some of their services to local organisations. A friend of mine has been involved in a ridiculous boomerang game because her LA have given over their carers assessment service to the local carer’s organisation. Ones does the assessment; the other holds the purse strings. Goodness knows what the problem is but eight months after having a “preliminary carers assessment”, no obvious outcome has been identified or acted upon. This same carers agency receives over 75% of its funding from the LA – a large proportion of that 75% coming from their annual carers grant, which I’ve always believed is meant to be for the carers. I’m pretty sure that’s what central government intended when they allocate these funds to the LAs. So, if my friend wants to challenge this inactivity, where does she get her advocacy from? She won’t be able to get it from the obvious place – the carers agency because they have become an intrinsic part of the process. Item two on this agency’s mission statement is: “providing carers with support and advice to access their rights”.

The government’s white paper on social care makes hardly any mention of advocacy at all which is very worrying. But even if advocacy had been more prominently on the agenda, who is going to provide it from a totally neutral position. Challenging authority is a lonely, frightening business. It’s made worse if you walk through the doors of a place purporting to support you, only to find they are indirectly or directly, part of the authority too. It doesn’t do much for your feelings of hope.

In a Panglossian world, every vulnerable person should be offered an advocate – an independent one who could really act in their best interests without a fettered agenda. Not every offer would be taken up, which is fair enough, but for those that did, the world might seem less lonely or frightening.

If there was the choice between central government issuing grants to LAs who in turn issue grants to local agencies to support the disabled and their carers; or central government issuing grants directly to advocacy services to provide support, I know which one I would choose.

 

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