Find the perfect disability carer, like online dating
A new internet service has been set up which uses online dating techniques to help disabled people find the perfect carer - but it has bigger ambitions.
When you sign up to Care Pair, you are asked to choose food, music and film preferences to help you find the right person for the right situation.
"You can choose from how much you like curry from 1 to 5, or Italian," says its creator Russell Smith. "Then in the film section there's horror films and comedy and things like that."
The former special needs teacher is 29 and based in Coventry. He has muscular dystrophy and years of experience of employing his own carers using the Direct Payments system from social services, where you are given a budget to buy-in your own care.
"One of the big problems is that a lot of the time you'll get people who are probably very good at being a carer, doing the general day-to-day washing, dressing, that sort of thing but, being still reasonably young, I like to go to gigs and festivals and all that."
He once employed an agency carer to assist him at a Maximo Park rock concert in Birmingham. She was in her 50s and Smith recalls it was very loud and full of people in their late teens and early 20s.
"She was sat there at one point with her fingers in her ears looking absolutely distressed at being there. I don't think it was something she would ever do herself."
Smith felt uncomfortable that he'd made her go, and believes his website and smartphone app can help both parties have a good time if matched correctly.
As well as questions to help you find a good personality match, the service also asks if you want your carer to have a CRB check, to drive, do manual handling and other more traditional questions.
At present care assistants are often found using local council bulletin boards, but smarter internet matching solutions like Smith's could help democratise the carer/cared-for marketplace, allowing carers to find many new clients and fill their whole day with jobs. Disabled people could find on-tap potential carers at a competitive price.
If your contacts book lets you down and you resort to using a care agency, Smith says it can cost three times the amount you would pay a carer privately. Employing carers from agencies in emergency situations could mean you use up your allocated Direct Payments budget too early, leaving little or no money to purchase support towards the end of the month.
The idea to open up the carer/cared-for market was born of a difficult situation when Smith's regular carer injured herself and couldn't work, giving just three hours notice.
Like many disabled people, Smith lives independently and the carers he employs with his care budget help him to do this. "I need pretty much everything doing for me," he says, so it's very difficult if his regular carers or stand-bys aren't able to turn up.
"I rang up Coventry Council's emergency social work team and all they could do was suggest I rang up all the carer agencies in Coventry. They emailed over a list of about 50 agencies that were available. After ringing, literally, all 50 of them, none of them had any staff available. So I asked the duty social worker what the options were, and all they could suggest was that I got admitted to hospital."
This was an option Smith did not want to take.
"I was lucky enough that I could go back to my family, so I just stayed at my mum and dad's for the weekend," he says. "But if I didn't have that back-up then getting admitted into hospital was the only option.
"It dawned on me that I know there are lots of disabled people in Coventry that employ their own carers, so if there was a way of harnessing and tapping into their care staff as well, then it'd be much more of a useful system for people to use."
About 90 people are currently signed up to the service. Smith makes no profit from it, but hopes advertising will fund it in future.
Russell Smith is currently exhibiting Care Pair at Naidex National, a disability resources and equipment event, 30 April to 2 May at NEC Birmingham.