The helpers are running out

Boni barks when the doorbell rings. Phillip Valentin opens, steps aside and leaves the greeting to Beate Ottlik. The qualified social worker lives in three rooms including a garden terrace on the ground floor of a tenement house belonging to the municipal housing association Gewofag in Giesing. Together with her mixed breed dog. And with always one of her helpers from a team of seven personal assistants, on this day it’s Valentin. Because Ottlik needs support around the clock. Due to spasticity and athetosis, the 37-year-old cannot control her movements, but she is by no means a child of sadness. On the contrary: she likes to eat out, meet up with friends wherever and whenever she wants, vacation as she pleases. She loves her freedom and has been taking the opportunity to have her own lifestyle since she was twenty. “The assistance model enables me to lead a self-determined life,” says Ottlik.

She wouldn’t have any bonuses, for example, if she lived in a facility for the disabled. And neither does her current job as a dog behavior trainer. “I’ve always wanted to do something with animals.” The young woman is currently learning how to train dogs for people with disabilities. In the case of people with a severe physical handicap, self-realization requires one-to-one care – which is usually not possible in facilities for the handicapped due to the staffing. But Beate Ottlik would like to live as independently as possible in her own apartment and according to her personal daily rhythm. That’s why she uses a pension alternative, the so-called “employer model”.

Seven employees

Ottlik has hired seven helpers – full-time, part-time and 450 euros – who look after her in 24-hour shifts according to an action plan she has drawn up. She takes care of their pay slips, takes care of the tax and social security registration and deregistration of the assistants, pays taxes and social security contributions and settles the wages for her employees with the cost bearer, the district of Upper Bavaria. “She’s sort of the general of our battalion,” jokes Pillip Valentin. The boss knows exactly how to organize the support so that in the end it suits everyone. “I set up a WhatsApp group for the assistants, where vacations and care times on public holidays like Christmas are also arranged,” explains Giesingerin. Valentin himself has been working for Ottlik for six and a half years, five days a month, 120 hours. He helps her eat and drink, brushes her teeth, helps her get dressed and undressed, takes a shower and goes to the toilet. He gives her a helping hand when she wants to get up from the wheelchair and go to the couch. He cooks and cleans the apartment.

Like most personal assistants, Phillip Valentin is a layman when it comes to caregiving. He studied illustration but dropped out. “The positive thing about the employer model for us helpers is that, thanks to the round-the-clock shifts, you still have time for other things if you need to,” says the man from Munich. For example, he also works in gastronomy. But the job is also ideal for students or people who are just starting their own business. “Because with the assistant’s salary you can cover your basic costs and still get involved elsewhere.” Ottlik adds that anyone who is “reasonably physically fit” can become a lay helper, and no special training is required. “Only the chemistry between employer and employee has to be right.” And there is nothing wrong with having empathy either.

There is a reason that Ottlik advertises the job in this way: the assistant staff is becoming fewer and fewer. There is an assistance exchange on the online platform www.vba-muenchen.de of the “Self-determined living” association. “But when I’m looking for someone there now, nobody answers,” says the wheelchair user. “Because hardly anyone knows this field of work.” She herself only recently needed a new helper. She searched for weeks without success. “Then I put up advertisements all over Giesing.” The commitment was worth it, the response was enormous. Ottlik’s support team is now complete again.

Too little money to live on

But there is a second reason for the staff shortage: the low wage level. Johannes Messerschmidt, himself one of the 280 disabled employers in Munich and the surrounding area and active on the board of the state capital’s Disability Advisory Council, estimates that 20 to 30 percent of people who need personal assistance are looking for helpers. “That’s why we keep getting calls for help,” he says. “Because nobody in this city can pay the rent for the money that this job brings in.” Personal assistants earn EUR 13.41 gross per hour, thirty cents more if they have worked in a household for two years. With a full-time job, that’s 2250 euros gross or 1651 euros net per month. “With today’s cost of living, you can hardly get anyone else on the market.”

The Association of Disabled Employers (VbA) and the Association for Integration Promotion (VIF) have therefore been negotiating with the district of Upper Bavaria for two years to achieve improvements in this sector. Your demand: a payment based on the collective agreement of the public service. “We would like 2,700 euros gross for a full-time job, as well as allowances for Sunday and public holiday work and a one-off annual payment in the form of vacation or Christmas bonuses,” says negotiator Messerschmidt. In the meantime, emphasizes the 69-year-old, a “willingness” can be seen on the part of the administration for a higher salary. “But it’s going slowly.”

In November, the social and health committee of the district council should now be presented with the first proposals. For people like Johannes Messerschmidt, the functioning of the employer model is not only important for a self-determined life, the round-the-clock helper solution is literally vital. Because as a polio patient he is permanently ventilated, and “in facilities for the disabled there is a lack of staff, even if you don’t hear anything about it”. For every ten people to be cared for, says the retired social worker, there are sometimes only two specialists. Personal assistants, on the other hand, can concentrate on one person – one of the advantages of this model, Beate Ottlik and Philipp Valentin add. In addition, this type of care corresponds to the goals of long-term care insurance, which focuses on the idea of self-determination and holistic care for people with disabilities.

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