The Tory council making vulnerable people pay for the coalition’s cuts

28 07 2010

Adult care is a highly pressured area of local government spending at the best of times, with councils racking up overspends even as public spending grew. Now this unfashionable area of public spending is increasingly taking a hit.

Adult care services look after the most vulnerable adults in our society – the disabled, the elderly, those with learning difficulties, mental health problems, or drug and alcohol addiction.

So take a bow, London Borough of Havering. With its Conservative-run council trying to save £19m over the next three years – and possibly £50m over five years – adult care users are being told to chip in.

Council bosses reckon that they can save up to £850k a year by raising charges for non-residential care. The 60 percent of service users who currently don’t pay for care due to their low income still won’t pay under the new plans – but the remainder will have their charges hiked, increasing the total amount contributed by service users by around a half.

The increased charges were approved at a recent council cabinet meeting (item 8 here) and will now go out to consultation. They include:

  • scrapping the subsidy of Meals on Wheels and charging meals at cost price (unless care related)
  • means testing for day care charges – the council predicts that 26 percent of service users will see their costs rise from £1.34 to £26 per session, while another 14 percent will see their costs rise from £1.34 to £40 per session, nearly halving the council subsidy
  • raising the maximum amount that 23 service users pay towards their cost of care from the current cap of £230 per week to a new cap of £320 per week
  • ending payment of 26 service users’ telephone line rental, costing each of them around £180 a year
  • capping the maximum disability related expenses covered by the council to £71.40 per person per week, affecting around 300 service users
  • remove the allowance for privately purchased respite care and day care services (those deemed necessary in social workers’ assessments will still be paid for by the council)
  • remove the allowance for personal care (assistance provided by a carer such as getting out of bed, washing, making meals etc) unless required as part of the care plan

Allowances for certain disability related expenses – special dietary needs, hairdressing, clothing – are going up slightly, but the overall effect is that service users who have more money despite their difficulties will have to fork out up to £4,600 extra each year.

And that’s not all – Havering plans to save an additional £1.25m from its adult social care budget through a ‘further review of adult social care services to ensure services are fair, personalised, appropriate and delivered in the most cost effective manner’. Time will tell whether or not that’s a cover for cuts.

A Havering council spokesman said: “We are proposing changes to our fairer charging policy to help offset the costs of services the council is not legally obliged to provide, but realises the importance of and is determined to keep going.

“Where charges are changed, we will ensure nobody pays more unless they can afford to.”

The increased charges will go towards the council’s plans to cut £19m in spending over the next three years. In the words of the council’s press release, most of the rest of the £19m in savings will be achieved through efficiency savings and new technology:

  • £3.5 million per year by transforming internal bureaucracy – centralising support functions and introducing new technology to replace paperwork
  • £2.7 million per year by transforming customer services, including new technology to standardise customer contact, improve self-service and help deal with more queries at the first contact
  • Around £4 million per year through better targeted and more efficient adult social care arrangements (from a current budget of £51 million)
  • £1 million per year reduction in government-funded support to schools
  • £850,000 per year through reviewing and rationalising the use of council buildings
  • £585,000 through better targeted and more responsive street cleansing and a review of waste contracts

But dig into the detail of the actual council budget reports (item 5), and it’s clear that it’s the most vulnerable who will be footing the bill.

Aside from adult care, children’s services are taking a hit from the cuts to area based grants – a 25 percent cut in the council’s Children’s Fund, and another 25 percent cut in funding for the Connexions service, which supports young people with career and education guidance, in particular those not in education, employment or training (NEET).

The three-year cuts programme also includes reductions to school transport, while youth services – information, advice and guidance, counselling services, Connexions and a teenage pregnancy service – will move from universal to targeted provision.

Other funding pots in Havering facing significant in-year cuts include start-up costs for extended schools (which run programmes for school children before and after the regular school day), and positive activities for young people, which funds summer holiday activities around the borough.

Of course, if any of those ‘transformation’ and technology savings fail to materialise as planned, expect more frontline services to be cut to make up the shortfall.

And just to top it all off, 100 jobs are expected to go.

Council leader Michael White insists that the cuts are necessary due to the coming reduction in government grants. “This means targeting limited resources where they are needed most, helping people to help themselves and supporting those who cannot help themselves.”

But schoolchildren, NEETs, the elderly, disabled and mentally ill would fall within most people’s definition of where resources are needed most.

The correct word is not ‘transformation’, Havering. The correct word is ‘decimation’.

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