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What do we know about Social Care Personal Assistants?

26 January 2017

Image: John WoolhamJohn Woolham

Social Care Personal Assistants are a small but growing segment of the social care workforce in England. It is also a part of the social care workforce that little is known about.

A Personal Assistant (PAs) is someone who can support an individual with their social care needs. For example, a PA will help to support someone with everyday activities, so that they can live their life as normally as possible. This could include helping them with washing or dressing, their weekly shop, or with household chores.

At King’s College London, we are looking for more evidence about PAs. Why do people decide to work as PAs? What are the rewards and frustrations of the job? What backgrounds do PAs have? Do they see their work as a stop-gap between other forms of employment, an interesting job, or a stepping stone in a career in social care? There has been concern expressed in the media about the risk of PAs abusing those they look after, but might PAs themselves be taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers? 

The truth is, at the present time, we don’t really have much evidence to enable us to answer these or other questions.  

What are we trying to find out?

Research being carried out at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London aims to change this. As a Senior Research Fellow, I am leading a study that aims to:

  • Describe the characteristics of the PA workforce – the backgrounds and motivations of PAs, what their role involves, the terms and conditions of their employment, their perceptions and experiences of their job and the links they may have (or not have) with the wider social care, or health workforce.
  • Explore the kind of things local authorities do, or could do, to create and match supply and demand.
  • Assess the potential of the PA workforce - for example, in supporting people with personal health budgets as well as social care personal budgets.
  • Investigate the barriers to PA working, including training and qualification requirements, problems arising from lone working, difficulties with employers and how disputes are sorted out, peer support and mentoring.

Although there is quite a lot of useful published research that describes the benefits of the Personal Assistant role from the perspective of disabled employers, there is very little from the perspective of PAs themselves. One major strand of the study will be interviews with a sample of 100 PAs. In many ways, this will be the hardest part of the study because there is no readily available database to draw on to contact PAs, or to invite them to take part.

How the research will be used

The study is currently at an early stage, but we anticipate the findings will add considerably to our knowledge of this part of the social care workforce and we hope they will support recommendations that will shape change.

Recommendations from the study will first be presented to the Department of Health (DfH) before being made publicly available. The outputs will include a report for the DfH, papers in the professional press and journals, presentations at conferences, and also to organisations and networks that support Social Care Personal Assistants.

What participation will involve

Taking part in the study would involve being asked a series of questions about your experience of working as a Personal Assistant. This would take up to an hour, depending on how much you found to say. It would be completely confidential, no names or other information that might identify anyone would be used in the report that would be written.

If you work as a Personal Assistant, think this study is worth doing and might be interested in taking part, please email directly to john.woolham@kcl.ac.uk with a contact telephone number or via 0207 848 8599. I will send you more information about the study to enable you to make sure you’re happy to take part and will then arrange a mutually convenient time to talk over the telephone.


About the author

John Woolham is a Senior Research Fellow of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London. 


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