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One of the many lessons we’ve learnt during the Coronavirus pandemic is how some previously under-valued jobs are crucial to our country. Across Greater Manchester at least 8000 Personal Assistants in care have been supporting disabled people through the pandemic. Now we are spreading the word about this unique role so that others can consider it as a career.

It’s the second largest workforce in social care, but when most people think of a Personal Assistant, they think of a PA in an office doing business and admin tasks.

However, there is another Personal Assistant role – one that supports people who need day to day help from social care or health to live a good life. Rather than being an employee of a care agency or a care home these staff are employed directly by the disabled person themselves and work in their home. The disabled person has what’s known as a ‘direct payment’ for their health or care support. The beauty of this is that they can recruit staff based on the right fit for them – rather than who a care agency is able to send that day.

Many employers choose PAs based on their interests and character - practical skills can be learnt, but having a good connection with someone, and values such as respect and being a good listener are less easy to teach. We hear many stories of people and families whose lives are transformed by Personal Assistants who help keep them safe, get out and about, follow their interests and contribute to their communities, as well as help with daily tasks and personal care.

A nasty assault left Michelle from Wigan’s brother needing long term care. Trying to give him a good quality of life using traditional care options left her family despairing, but recruiting a team of PAs began to turn this around:

"Mark’s team of 8 PAs aren’t all from a care background but they all see him as a person, not a number, and take into account what matters to him. Mark trusts them all and they make him feel safe. We have been able to train his team in his specific needs such as how to administer his medication, muscle relaxing therapy and electronic communication.

Mark changed radically once this care was in place. A guy who was told he would stay in bed all day and amount to nothing now has his own home, an annex attached to my parents’ house, a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle and is working to develop his own business. He’s gone from being always being down and not wanting to communicate to laughing with his family again. He does whatever anyone else does, with his Personal Assistants by his side.

Having the support of Personal Assistants has been so freeing for us as a family. We all have our independence but can connect and have fun family time together.”

As a PA, Mary from Bury, has found a career that means she has to think on her feet.

“I always wanted to work with children but drifted into insurance work which I stayed with, and enjoyed, until my second child was born.

I felt it was then time for a change. I was very lucky to secure a job at a special school. I also worked part time with disabled children who attended the school, as a Personal Assistant in Care (PA), employed by their families.

I still work as a PA on a regular basis for the same young lady I have known for the last 13 years. Trust and respect have grown between us and her parents to the point that I now will stay overnight to care for her. This takes time and lots of listening. You really have to get to know the people you are supporting, and their families, because being a PA is about supporting them to live the life they want, whatever that may mean to them.

Chris from Wigan would agree: “For the past fifteen years I have worked as a Personal Assistant in care (PA). I first met one of the people I support, Daniel, as he was walking out of a Duke of Edinburgh session explaining to the instructor that he wouldn’t be coming back because it was boring (or words to that effect). His rebellious nature instantly drew me in - and we have remained friends ever since. Daniel was looking for a PA and I was delighted to be offered the position.

At the time, my role mainly consisted of supporting Daniel to engage in the same activities as his non-disabled peers of a similar age. In 2007, the support I provided for Daniel was perceived as radical, as his peers within special education were getting more traditional services. Employing a PA allowed Daniel to decide what good support looked like, giving him control over his life. Whilst we spent time having fun, Daniel also wanted to find meaning and purpose. Daniel now works in the local Junk Food Project providing meals for the local community, whilst reducing food waste. This is one of his greatest sources of pride, and it is essential that his PAs empower him to fulfil this role.

When I began as a PA I would have described the role as having fun with people I like spending time with. Whilst my opinion hasn’t changed, I believe that this description does not fully appreciate the skills, knowledge and passion required to do the job well. Being friendly and well-meaning is not enough, to assist another person to live their best life you must be dedicated to continuous learning and development. The skills you need for the role are often not given the financial recognition they deserve, however, the pay cheque was never what being a PA was about, nor was it the most valuable asset the role gave me. The role taught me how to manage risk, problem solve, respond under pressure and think creatively.”

Working as a PA is certainly never dull. It always keeps you on your toes, and is so worthwhile and enjoyable.”

If you feel you have what it takes to be a Personal Assistant in care, or are just curious to find out more, you can visit greatermanchesterpa.org.uk for more information and to find vacancies local to you.