OPINION: Danger of profiting from care

Peter Stanford

Supporting People goes live this month. Public money is now available on a scale hitherto unknown - in others words, a bit more than previously - to enable people in the community with special needs to receive the practical support they need to live independent and fulfilled lives.

A decent slice of the new money will go to third sector organisations working in this area. Again it is a cause for rejoicing. One excellent local charity I know which offers independent living to disabled people in its neighbourhood has even been telephoned by the county social services team and encouraged to expand its activities so as to access more of the newly available funding.

My fear about this new dawn is to do with the parallel network of private organisations that stand to benefit from this new tranche of public money. I have lost count in recent months of how many erstwhile charity workers or NHS staff have set themselves up in business as private care providers. They may deliver the same service, but they are making a profit out of it.

For me it cuts across every reason that I have ever been involved in the third sector. However good the "care packages" of these private, profit-making companies, however innovatory they can be once freed of public bureaucracy, I cannot quite stomach the idea that someone, somewhere is making money out of people's misery. And it is not only their "clients" who are at risk of exploitation by these outsourcing operators. I heartily recommend Polly Toynbee's book Hard Work: Life in Low-Pay Britain for the appalling portrait it paints of how some of these companies treat their employees in pursuit of profits.

In our sector, the accepted attitude to this development seems to me to have been one of tolerance and adaptation. As Supporting People threatens to put even more public money in their pockets, perhaps we should get a bit more militant, not least by showing that we can do the same job just as well if not better without wanting to make a fast buck into the bargain.

Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards.

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