Social care cuts are too swingeing

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I REFER to Councillor Peter Catchpole’s disingenuous letter published last week about the cuts to social care and benefits that West Sussex County Council is imposing on 4,500 elderly and disabled people across the county.

He wrote: ‘Let me make clear that nobody will be suddenly left to fend for themselves. Anybody who no longer meets the eligibility criteria will be supported to make alternative arrangements.’

The facts are very different.

Cllr Catchpole, the cabinet member responsible for adult services, has cut over £6m from social care funding and day-centre budgets.

He expects a £1m ‘band-aid’ will be a suitable panacea for the voiceless vulnerable he intends to cut off from their care support and throw out from their day centres and sheltered work placements.

Who is he kidding?

Certainly not the voluntary and community sectors he is expecting to pick up the pieces. He has slashed their budgets too. Certainly not the few people his department ‘consulted’ during the truncated consultation programme conducted over the Christmas period – 76 per cent of those said NO to his proposals. He has also run roughshod over his own select committee who expressed their concerns about:

1 There is insufficient representation and involvement of the voluntary sector in this work.

2 They questioned whether the voluntary sector has been adequately funded to fulfil its future role.

3 They questioned whether prevention and wellbeing services will be ready in time.

4 They questioned whether prevention and wellbeing services will be sufficiently community-based.

5 They questioned whether the health and wellbeing hubs will be operational in time.

The select committee recommendation was to: ‘Delay the proposed decision to change the eligibility criteria until work to commission prevention and wellbeing services is completed and properly funded’.

Cllr Catchpole ignored them completely.

In his letter last week, Cllr Catchpole also said ‘together with an additional £2m of public health resources, we have at least £7m available to support this work’.

None of this ‘new’ money is available to support the 4,500 elderly and disabled people with moderate social care needs who will lose their support.

This money is already reserved for time-limited health promotion programmes, eg healthy eating, alcohol harm, pregnancy advice, weight management, exercising for health and smoking cessation etc.

None of it is earmarked to replace the services disabled and older people will lose in the coming months.

And what are these alternative Wellbeing services that Cllr Catchpole talks so grandly about that will signpost people to alternative services?

Three hubs/contact points will be set up to cover Worthing and Adur, Mid-Sussex and Horsham districts in addition to three already established in Crawley, Arun and Chichester districts.

They are nothing more than telephone and internet access points with very limited direct face-to-face access for those lucky enough to live close by.

These are not suitable access arrangements for vulnerable people.

They will simply point people in need to charities and voluntary sector services, where these exist.

Will they cope? No.

Most have had to slash their services because of budget cuts in their funding from the council.

Take one example: The Richmond Fellowship, a specialist provider of mental health services.

Their Bognor Regis office has had to make five support workers redundant because of budget cutbacks.

Another is the Aldingbourne Trust which currently supports 300 people with learning disabilities at its centres at Fontwell and Petworth.

They already have 80 people on their waiting list for finding jobs.

As representatives from Councils for Voluntary Services advised the select committee: ‘Don’t count on us to fill the gaps in services’.

Those with only moderate needs requiring more personalised help face-to-face, we are told that there will be three combined social care and health assessment teams across the county (so hardly locally-based).

These will offer time-limited support to help people maintain their independence.

However, we are not told if these professionals will have the specialist knowledge and skills to help people with learning and/or mental health difficulties.

Most people – even with moderate disabilities – need on-going and consistent support from trusted skilled professionals.

The final piece in Cllr Catchpole’s master plan is for an anonymous call centre for vulnerable people to telephone when they are in trouble.

The trouble is, so many have problems communicating, they can’t actually use a phone, let alone write any information down!

Cllr Catchpole’s plans lack any joined-up thinking, but what concerns the Don’t Cut Us Out campaign most is expert after expert has advised these cuts in social care will not lead to any savings.

The underlying evidence is those that fall out of the system quickly descend into substantial and critical situations. And in doing so, they face huge and unnecessary stress and trauma.

No-one deserves that – not even Mr Catchpole!

Barry Pickthall

Don’t Cut Us Out Campaign – speaking for the Vulnerable across West Sussex