Sunday, 27 February 2011

Driver does screeching U-turn...

but in wrong direction..

In 2006 County Councillor Driver was right behind our campaign to save Maplewood House from closure due to budget cuts by the then Labour administration in charge. He made a number of supportive statements in the press and attacked the decision strongly.

A number of other Conservative councillors when asked by the Lancashire Evening Post 'Do you think Maplewood House should stay open?' replied a definitive "YES".

They included Mark Perks (2006:"It really is unacceptable to treat vulnerable families using this much needed facility in this way".), Mike Calvert, Christopher Holtom - the chair of the meeting on the 17th February who had a mother of a disabled child removed from the public gallery by police as she attempted to ask a question of the assembled councillors - and ..Susie Charles who is now proposing the closures taking £3 million out of the respite centres budget.

Mr Driver also penned a letter to the Lancashire Evening Post challenging a Labour Councillor with the question "Is Councillor Gore saying it is okay to close a respite centre other than Maplewood?"

More recently -just over 18 months ago- in 2009 when the Conservatives wanted to take control of the County Council from Labour at the County Council elections that year they slammed Labour councillors in their election material for cutting the budget for respite by £150,000.

Conservative leaflet June 2009

Two of the measures criticised here are in the Conservatives budget cuts announced on the 6th January approved by Cabinet on 3rd of February and voted through by Full Council on 17th February.

This time though its £3m from the children with disabilities respite budget and £1.5 million from the adult social care training budget ..and many millions more - £179.1m in total - and 70% of cuts fall on frontline services.

The Conservatives described Labour's proposals in 2009 as 'slashing' services and hitting 'those who rely on them most'. Indeed.

So what's changed?

Of course as the leaflet points out we've had the bank bailout.

The state of the national finances were certainly well known in 2009. Could it be that they were just playing party politics with vital services the most vulnerable rely on to get elected? It wouldn't be the first time.

Time for a change in Lancashire? Families may well feel betrayed.

And why are these families who contribute so much already being made to pay for national deficit problems?

Politicians do not like being accused of making U-turns as it portrays them as weak or hypocritical - but that kind of political rhetoric should be part of the old politics. We are supposed to be in a time of 'new' politics.

What is needed here is a change of heart.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Eligibility and Allocation of Services

As if families with disabled children weren't facing enough upheaval already with cuts both national and local Lancashire County Council is to take a decision on the introduction of new eligibility for assessment criteria and service levels for children with disabilities and their families. The decision is due on the 22 March 2011.

The decision details explain:

"This report seeks to establish consistent eligibility for assessment and for service provision for children and young people with disabilities through a Thresholds Model which will be applied progressively throughout Lancashire.

This approach will clarify the eligibility for assessment and thresholds for indicative levels of service provision to children with disabilities and their families. This will require re-assessments of service provision to children with disabilities and consequently some families may receive reduced or increased levels of provision."

You can find details of the proposed consultation arrangements here

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Challenging Behaviour


On the 17th February the Full Council of Lancashire County Council met and voted through unprecedented cuts -many of these cuts fall on the most vulnerable, children & adults with disabilities.

Families of those affected who attended the meeting were appalled at being ejected from the meeting by police as the behaviour of councillors during the meeting left alot to be desired and has been widely condemned. The conduct of the council leader, Geoff Driver, has come under particular scrutiny.

Families of those affected by cuts attended the meeting to find out what these cuts would mean in practice but were met with threats by the council of police intervention if they raised objections.

The police were not as such 'called' to the meeting but were already in the council building - for the first time in 20 years. Unprecedented indeed.

The police themselves are facing cuts to their own organisation. The police who attended were mostly respectful of families and there to do a job as instructed by their managers & the council.

Much of the cuts which warranted a police presence were to the services which disabled children & adults and their families who care for them need to live a tolerable life. Note tolerable, not decent or normal ...just tolerable.

For far too long disabled children & adults and their families have generally been faced with the assumption that they should lead a life of lesser expectation than those not affected by disability due to 'rationing of resources'.

One parent, a mother of a disabled child, attempted politely "please", "may I", "with respect" etc, to raise a question from the public gallery during the meeting. The mother objected to the services herself & her son used being implicated as 'waste' during the budget debate - in fact the respite centre her son accesses helps to ensure that his mother is able to continue meeting his extra needs which otherwise would cost the state a whole lot more. Unpaid carers -usually families- save the state £87bn a year.

Instead of addressing her question ...she was ordered by the council to be removed by police.

Police try to remove remaining families from the public gallery

The council leader Geoff Driver later said that when this mother got up to speak she ceased to be a mother of a disabled child and became 'an unruly member of the public no better than ...louts'. Witness accounts, including the media present, recognised that the mother spoke with dignity and restraint. She did not cease to be a mother of a disabled child but spoke because of this and with the best interests of her and the other children who use the respite units at heart.

In contrast the boorish behaviour of the council leader and other councillors -smirking, talking when others were speaking and eating sweets during the meeting has been well noted - it was as if it was all a game - yet they were making decisions on the life, death & quality of life of the most vulnerable in Lancashire. .

One can have little faith in any decisions taken by Lancashire County Council when those taking such decisions have so little understanding of the lives of families affected by disability and in need of their support.

The mother who spoke because she was the mother of a disabled child wanting to do the best for her son is owed an apology by the leader of Lancashire County Council.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Mum from East Lancashire describes how vital respite is

Pam McCullagh from Accrington describes the pressures of 24/7 caring and how vital respite at Hargreaves House is in being able to continue to care for her son who has Angelman's Syndrome, autism and epilepsy.

You can read the articles here and here

Families take to the streets to protect respite care

Families who describe their disabled children's respite units as their lifeline joined the Preston Against Cuts Rally on Preston Flag Market on Saturday 12th February to protest at proposals to close them by Lancashire County Council due to budget cuts.

Friday, 11 February 2011

What is a respite unit?

Many parents of disabled children describe the respite units who support their families as their lifeline. The respite units are a home-from-home, a place where the children can stay overnight, have fun, learn independence, play and socialise with their peers while their families take a break from 24/7 lifelong caring. It means both child and family get a break from their caring situation.

Granada Reports met a family who uses Maplewood House and found out just how important it is to keep such respite units open. Maplewood House manager Tracey Morris showed reporter Rob Smith the facilities at Maplewood. You can watch the news item here

Lancashire has 8 respite units:
Alexandra House, Lancaster,
Tel: 01524 37606
South Avenue, Morecambe,
Tel: 01524 411530
The Bungalow, Preston,
Tel: 01772 716252
Maplewood House, Bamber Bridge,
Preston, Tel: 01772 336384
Grimshaw Lane, Ormskirk,
Tel: 01695 572861
Long Copse, Chorley,
Tel: 01257 264485
Reedley Cottages, Burnley,
Tel: 01282 602245
Hargreaves House, Oswaldtwistle,
Tel: 01254 235675

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.