What is a Personal Assistant?

For many years disabled people, like myself, who have needed care and support have employed personal assistants (PA), using monies from the government, instead of using care agencies. While disabled people once had to fight hard to employ a PA, in recent years the government has recognised the benefits they bring as they have encouraged them as the norm for many people. But as the number of personal assistants supposedly rises, it is important to properly define what a PA is, something so far the government has refused to do.

Before going any further I wish to make it clear that I am not judging the individual relationship any service user has with someone who supports them that is working for them, merely whether we have accurately call the person providing the support a PA. It is also helpful to understand what the term carer means which is a confusing term with many meanings. A carer could be an informal carer, a family member or friend who is unpaid. The term also refers to a paid care worker who works from someone other than the user(s). And finally, simply to confuse matters, it could refer to a personal assistant and many people prefer or insist on using this term to describe their personal assistants. I admit that to simplify matters in some situations, I just say carer to ensure people know what I mean.

So getting to the heart of the matter, I would define a personal assistant as someone independent directly employed by a person who is capable of directing them and requires care and/or support tasks to be performed. Let us break this down to ensure we understand this definition. The person has to be employed rather than self-employed, which has been a bone of contention between myself and the government who believes it does not matter how people are employed. But HMRC guidelines clearly state you can not direct someone who is self-employed, only specify what you want doing not how you want it to be done. Many people think the difference between being employed and self-employed is simply who pays the tax but the reality is its significantly affects the control and responsibilities each party has and therefore the relationship, making the difference between a PA and a care worker.

I would also argue that for a person to employ a personal assistant, they must be able to direct them on a day to day basis themselves. A true personal assistant simply follows the instructions of the user and is only responsible for the quality of their work, not specifically the welfare of their employer. Rather, a employer is responsible for the welfare of the staff they employ and direct. If someone is unable to direct than they may employ someone with assistance or have someone employ a person on their behalf, but the person employed is likely to be directed by someone else, or required to follow a specific support plan, aligning themselves to being care/support workers rather than PAs.

I also believe a true personal assistant has to be independent from the employer to avoid any conflicts of interest. It has become increasingly fashionable for people to employ family members as personal assistants. While it is not my business so long as it is working for them, when we are talking in terms of accuracy, I have to question whether they can be defined as a personal assistant. The government is now putting money into developing the PA workforce and the question to be asked is whether that family member would continue to work as a personal assistant after the user no longer requires them? The answer is probably not! I am really unsure how well you can truly direct a family member, especially immediate family, as there must be a whole range of potential conflicts of interest occurring. I would certainly not like my family involved in my care and support.

In terms of what a personal assistant does on a day to day basis, this is a very individual thing depending on the needs and wants of each user and the outcomes agreed by the funding bodies paying. I do not feel you can specify this in any way nor create standards and mandatory training as the government has been trying unsuccessfully to do. The relationship between personal assistants and those they support is so individual and is more like a marriage (and a divorce!) rather than an employer/employee relationship.

So these are my thoughts of what a personal assistants is and I hope this article can maybe begin a proper debate on the subject so everyone can properly understand the issues involved.

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