Friday, 11 February 2011

Care not cuts

Lancashire County Council choose to cut care for disabled children

On 3rd February Lancashire County Council's cabinet approved budget cuts of £179million and the proposals are due to be voted through by the Full Council on 17th February.

Almost 70% of the cuts are to frontline services including substantial cuts to services for disabled children and adults.

One of these cuts is Lancashire's proposal to save £3 million by closing a number of children with disabilities respite/short breaks units.

Lancashire is planning "the closure of between one and two units in year one [2011/12] and additional establishments in subsequent years." (Lancashire Budget resolutions document, 6th January).

Meetings of parents with Lancashire County Council representatives have given a clear message to them that the families who use the units need them to stay open so that families can continue to care for their children.

Many parents describe their respite units as their 'lifeline' which allows them to regularly 'recharge their batteries' so they can continue to care.

Parents of disabled children pleas for help

This isn't the first time respite for disabled children and their families has been the target of budget cuts in Lancashire. In 2006 the council had a budget shortfall and decided to plug the gap by closing a 'respite establishment'. Save Our Respite Establishments was set up in 2006 to explain to Lancashire County Council why keeping Maplewood House open was essential. The council listened to families and how necessary their respite unit was to their being able to care and kept Maplewood open.

Families with disabled children across the UK often describe how life is one long battle to get the help they need to support their children - diagnosis, special equipment, appropriate and accessible play and leisure opportunities, an overnight break. Having fought to keep their unit open in 2006 families, this time right across Lancashire, are facing yet another battle to keep the services they struggled to get in the first place.

Families in Lancashire face Riven Vincent desperation

The case of Celyn and Riven Vincent which hit the news recently highlights these issues. Riven Vincent was desperate for proper support to help care for her disabled daughter. The council rejected her pleas for more help and Riven felt so exhausted and desperate that she decided she would have to put her daughter into full-time care as she was no longer able to cope with the relentless strain of 24/7 caring. She loves her daughter but needs support and a break.

Families in Lancashire are also facing such a bleak 'choice' if their care is cut.

False Economy

The costs of disabled children being in full-time care when their families are no longer able to bear the strain would wipe out any savings the council is trying to make by closing the respite units. The stress and strain of caring without enough or the right type of support will also cost the health of families.

Why are these cuts happening?

The reason for these cuts is because the government has decided to try to reduce the national budget deficit. The budget deficit (8% of the 11% of GDP deficit is down to the financial crash apparently) ballooned as a result of the financial crash and bailing out the banks. On the other hand the Conservatives blame Labour's spending although as some have pointed out the Conservatives backed Labour's spending plans right up until 2008.

Undoubtedly though the bank bailout and recession has greatly affected the nation's finances. Either way the upshot is that the government has given councils less money to spend.

We are told that these cuts are 'necessary'. Cutting the support for disabled children and their families is an odd kind of necessary.

Some commentators and economists have said that it is not necessary to cut this hard this fast. While Local Authority Chief Financial Officers worry whether the cuts are deliverable ...on time. It is open to any political party including the current governing party to choose a different strategy for reducing the deficit - doing it more gradually, altering the proportion of tax vs cuts and locally using reserves to protect frontline services from cuts.

These cuts are a choice by the government nationally and locally - not a necessity.

Families across Lancashire must tell Lancashire County Council and the government why care, not cuts, is a necessity.