Monday, November 29, 2010

Norfolk County Council's ideas for saving money

OK, I've been gearing up to write this for about a month but haven't quite managed it.  The whole task seems rather daunting and somewhat futile as I have no doubt that they will go ahead with the cuts regardless.  On the other hand, I also believe that it's really really important for people to speak up about things that are wrong.  If you do not voice your opinions about the reduction in public services, how are those making the decision going to know how you feel?  We need to tell them so that the decision, so that all responsibility stemming from that, will be on their head.

This a very long post, but please read it through to the end.

All the ideas and plans that the Council have are detailed in these documents here.  About a  month ago I first heard about the proposed cuts and went to a public meeting.  I had assumed the meeting was held for the Deaf community and was going to be focused on the Sensory Support Unit.  It wasn't, it was a general meeting and was dominated by people, both on the panel and in the audience, who were concerned about the job cuts.  Well, losing up to 3000 jobs is bad, there's no way round that.  But removing so much of the support services around vulnerable people in Norfolk is as bad, if not worse.  Most people at the meeting had no idea about the work of the Sensory Support Unit and no idea what the closure of it would mean to it's users.

I came out of the meeting fairly angry and frustrated.  There will be a march on 4th December throughout Norwich to protest against the cuts, but again, I fear the emphasis will be on job cuts, and not on the support services which we will be losing.  I know it isn't entirely the fault of Norfolk Council, the Conservative* government has told them to expect a £155 million gap in funding in order to help reverse the national deficit.  With an ageing population (you know, the service users) growing, the cuts form central government, inflation and a promise not to increase council tax the Council needs to find ways to save money.

How are they going to do this?
They have come up with various suggestions, put them in various documents and called it the Big Conversation.  A lot of it boils down to withdrawing services and expecting the private sector or volunteers to step in and take over.  Getting people to do jobs for free is really ethical, amirite?
  • They are reducing eligibility or services from those with 'substantial' need to those with 'critical' need.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that people categorised as having substantial need could soon move to the critical need list, and that in the long run this will cost them more money.
  • They intend to "provide leadership and influence to ensure Norfolk's voice is heard".  What use is this if you are not serving your constituents?  It's a cop out.
  • "Commissioning efficient, responsive and cost effective services to meet people's needs" - this means outsourcing to private companies who in all likelihood don't or can't give a stuff about the pastoral care of their clients, because they are in it to make a profit.
  • "Supporting, developing & maintain the infrastructure that helps our economy" - How???  Where is the funding for business and employment support that helps boost the economy?  What other services will be lost?
  • Signposting people to the services they need and providing information about the services they need - so, that means outsourcing then.
  • "Helping & enabling others to build and maintain strong, sustainable and caring communities" - relying on volunteers to do the job they used to do.
  • Encouraging people to use their personal budgets to buy care and support for themselves.  These personal budgets are ALREADY being spent on things the recipient needs.  Personal budgets won't increase, so how will it be possible to afford everything?  This seems to me like people are being punished for requiring state aid.
  • "People will be paying more towards the real cost of providing the services they receive or
    receiving help and support from others within their neighbourhoods"  Because vulnerable people are known for being rich aren't they?
There's a particularly disgusting section about the meals on wheels service (emphasis mine)-

"Many community and commercial organisations now provide options that give people a choice they
simply didn’t have before. For example, balanced ready meals are now available widely through
supermarkets with delivery options at a greater choice and lower cost than the council can provide through its more limited Meals on Wheels service.
Similarly, community based leisure options offer a wide choice of daytime activities. Norfolk is blessed with a vibrant community life and voluntary sector, and strong parish and town councils. So we propose to modernise our services to take account of these changes in society and importantly, make sure we are targeting our services to where there is greatest need."

The Meals on Wheels service does not just provide meals.  They provide human contact, help with preparing the food, checking the person is eating enough and social interaction.  The supermarkets will not do this.  Not everyone has a credit or debit card to buy online.  Not everyone has a bank account.  Not everyone has Internet access to order food, or even know how to use the Internet, let alone afford it.

They talk about the cost of support for children coming into council care:
from ‘critical and substantial’, to ‘critical’ only."

Are we expected to believe that £51,000 is too much to spend on a child?  Note that they are reducing the eligibility to critical for adults only - because to reduce that for children would put them in breach of their statutory obligations.

Here are other costs they have quoted:

"Here are some of the costs we face:
· One fire engine costs £27,000 each year to lease.
· A residential care package for one older person can range between £15,000 and £93,000 a year.
· Providing residential care packages for adults with a learning disability can cost between £16,000 and £206,000 for one adult each year – although the average cost of care is £45,000.
· On average it costs the service £17,368 per year to deliver day care for an adult with a learning disability.
· Average cost of foster care for one child is £550 per week.
· Every tonne of waste that householders bring to our recycling centres costs us £91.
· The cost of subsiding Park & Ride journeys currently costs the council 89p per journey."

I mean seriously, what £27,000 is too much for a fire engine?  That saves lives?  £17,368 is too much to spend on day care for adults?  People providing foster care should do it for even less?

Then there's the bit about wanting to cut the rural bus service - with fewer buses, fewer people will use them, meaning the Council will argue that demand is decreased, so more buses will be cut, and so on and so on.  Meanwhile the infrastructure is disappearing from our villages so to access vital services you have to get into the towns or cities, but now you won;t be able to. Great.  Isolation beckons.

They appear to think that volunteers and members of the family will step in as carers.  They forget that not everybody can care for their family.  Not everyone has family.  Not everyone has the mental, physical or financial resources to help their family (or friends).  What happens to these people, these potential carers?  What happens to those needing care?

They intend to produce an Equality Impact Assessment of the proposals and use this to inform their decision.  This just stinks of bullshit - removing the Sensory Support Unit is obviously going to have an adverse impact on those with visual and hearing disabilities, because they are it's target user group.  If the Council was really interested in equality they wouldn't be proposing the closure of the Unit. 

The proposals state that they will "Reduce the scale and capacity of the sensory support service - We propose to scale back this service so that it meets only statutory requirements. It would mean the work of the current sensory support team would cease and statutory services commissioned through other providers."

At the public meeting the staff said they had already been told their jobs were going.  All of their work is a priority.  The Unit funds other vital services in the area.  It's a bloody disgrace (and really require scary) that it;s being considered for the axe.  I see now they have put up an extra document talking specifically about the Unit, go here and click on the documents tab, then consultation document.  Unfortunately it's in word, but if you need to read it and don't have word email me on paicomics [at] yahoo dot co dot uk and I'll get a pdf (or other) version emailed to you.

In the introduction, it states:

"We propose to reduce the level of services offered by our Sensory Support Service. We propose to do this by meeting only the needs of people who are eligible for social care services as set out by the Fair Access to Care (FACs) criterion. At present, we provide specialist support for people who have sensory support needs, but do not necessarily meet the FACs criterion.
If this proposal is agreed and implemented, we would no longer fund the sensory support team. People who are eligible for services under FACs criterion would continue to receive support services, but from their locality team through self directed support and personal budgets.
This proposal would see savings of approximately £1.06m."

Face to face meetings are being held with the user groups affected, some have already been held but I believe that one is due to take place at the Norwich Deaf Centre on 11th December.

The consultation runs from 26th October 2010 to 10th January 2011.  The Council Cabinet will meet on 24th January to decide what to do.  The full, horrific list of what will get axed is to be found here.  I would list them, but I'm too sickened by the proposals to look at it anymore. The next 4 years of this pissing Tory government are going to be hell on toast..

You know what else I'm sick of?  Mentioning this to hearing people and having them say 'yeah well something has got to be lost to save money, so it's the SSU or something else.'  I don't even have the energy to argue with them about it, if you have no empathy or understanding of how lucky you are to be able bodied in a society which does not value disabilities or people with disabilities, you..well, you annoy me.  And by the way, everyone is gonna be fucked over by these proposals.  The elderly, the young, those with mental health issues, learning difficulties, those with HIV/AIDs, the arts, parents and the museum service.

Fuck I'm depressed.

*OK OK, technically it's a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition.  I place the blame for these ridiculous economic policies at the Tories feet.


Admiral Drax said...

Wow. What a thoughtless, insensitive approach to policy making.

Saranga said...

yep. i'm going to the deaf centre tomorrow to tell the director of social services than I am not happy with these plans.

Michelle said...

Excellent post, Saranga. It's awful the extent of these local government cuts, isn't it? I work for my local authority & our budget cuts are being announced in the New Year, & I anticipate things are going to be just as bad as that which you outline here.

It's so sickening to see services for the disabled, the young, the poor, BME communities, women, being cut when what got us into this mess was the reckless behaviour of bankers and the greedy logic and practices of capitalism. But now it's public services, and those people who contribute to and rely on those services, who must pay.

Damn the ConDems, indeed.