Mum blames Cornwall Council for failing her son over 'woeful' care pay

The mother of a vulnerable son with complex autism has blamed Cornwall Council for failing him and others over "woefully insufficient" Direct Payments the local authority provides to families to hire staff to provide care and support.

Cayce Ibbotson, who lives in the Newquay area, told us she has had an eight-year battle with the council to provide better care for her adult son, who we are calling 'L'. "He is far from the only person with complex needs in our region who I believe the council is failing to make adequate provision for, including by offering an untenable wage rate for their staffing needs," she said.

The council says it has developed a new care sector workforce strategy, which will be published in the next few months. It is also commissioning a new service after being told by Cornish families that more support was needed to help manage Direct Payment.

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A council spokesperson said: "The strategy specifically recognises that improvements to pay and conditions is a key part of recruitment and retention of the workforce. While funding is currently set at a national level we are working with care providers to make employment in the sector more attractive."

Cayce said: "I want to speak out about poor wages within the publicly-funded social care sector in Cornwall; specifically about the woefully insufficient, and in the main, arbitrary hourly rate - in the form of Direct Payments. That's the money Cornwall Council provides to people, including those with complex needs, to hire staff to provide the care and support they need and which, importantly, the council has a legally enforceable duty to ensure is able to be provided for that sum.

"Currently this is not happening as the hourly rate provided is set at the minimum wage - or, since April 1, less - and, as a result, is almost entirely incapable of attracting any appropriate candidates to the roles required; roles that may literally involve having the lives, safety and wellbeing of the most vulnerable people in our community, with the most complex needs, in their underpaid, understaffed and under-experienced hands."

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Cayce added: "My son 'L' is one of those people with both significant and complex needs. Two and a half years ago Cornwall Council caused all of his long-term support to be removed while forcing him through a court to try and show he could not make his own decisions about the quantity and nature of his support. Although they failed to do that, they have insisted since that 'L' needs less than a third of the support he originally had despite his needs having increased since, and that it can be sourced and delivered for around minimum wage rates.

"Reality and experience demonstrates otherwise, however, so we have already advised Cornwall Council that if necessary we will pursue Judicial Review proceedings to cause them to properly assess and identify his complex eligible needs. However, meeting those needs now or in the future involves sourcing and retaining sufficient staff to replace those long-term workers lost as a result of Cornwall Council's actions.

"Of course any such staff rightly require a sufficient and appropriate wage that reflects the demanding, skilled and complex nature of the work involved. Yet since that is not on offer it has proved to be impossible to source any - much less any appropriate - staff despite significant efforts including placing adverts in, or engaging with, over 80 public-facing outlets."

Growing expenditure on adult social care services is the biggest pressure on Cornwall Council's budget. In 2024/25 its spending in that area is likely to exceed £282m, more than a third of its total revenue budget.

A Cornwall Council spokesperson said it is unable to speak about individual cases, but did release a statement in response to Cayce's concerns.

They said: "One of our main aims at Cornwall Council is for people to have the right care, in the right place and at the right time and, as part of this, our social work team will assess a person’s eligible outcomes and needs under the Care Act. A person can use a Direct Payment to choose support that assists them to meet their needs. If they choose to have a PA (personal assistant) but can’t recruit one then we would look at whether there are alternative ways in which their needs can be met or check if their funding level was appropriate.

"As part of our work to give people more choice and control over their lives we want to encourage more people to use a Direct Payment so they can make their own choices and commission their own care. This work is being developed in partnership with people who use services who told us that more support was needed to help manage the Direct Payment. Based on this feedback we are in the process of commissioning a new service to provide that support which will be available next year.

"Alongside this we have recently developed a care sector workforce strategy that sets out actions that aim to create good work in the sector. These include the offer of fair pay, secure employment, training, qualifications and career progression opportunities, worker recognition and involvement in decision making.

"The strategy specifically recognises that improvements to pay and conditions is a key part of recruitment and retention of the workforce. While funding is currently set at a national level we are working with care providers to make employment in the sector more attractive. Key to success in this area will be collaborative working and we will be seeking support from local NHS partners, independent sector providers, and other partner agencies."

Cayce says she would like to hear from any other people in Cornwall affected by the issues she has raised. She can be contacted via email at mycornwallstory@mailfence.com