A REPORT on disabled people hit the hardest by local authority cuts has ranked West Sussex County Council one of the worst in England.
Conducted by think tank Demos and commissioned by charity Scope, the report revealed the council to be in the bottom ten of 152 councils in relation to the highest impact of budget cuts on the disabled.
The think tank’s website labels the county’s cut level ‘very high’ in comparison to other councils, and defines its coping level as ‘bad’.
However the council said this week that cuts to frontline services had been kept to an ‘absolute minimum’. It added that the report had been ‘discredited’ because council comparisons were ‘meaningless’.
Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope, said: “For months now disabled people have felt that they are being disproportionately affected by budget cuts and this research reveals the true reality of the lives of thousands of disabled families across the country as they begin to feel the effect of local budget cuts.
“We are calling on councils to put disabled people and their families at the centre of decisions that affect their lives.
“We know that every council has to make cuts and there is no simple way to protect frontline services.
“However it’s clear that some councils are taking creative steps to attempt to reduce the negative impact of budget cuts on disabled constituents and it’s right to commend those councils for taking the initiative to do so.
“This research also exposes a potential risk in the Government’s localism agenda. Whilst some councils will always seek to innovate and protect the interests of their constituents, others will choose the easier option.
“The Government must make sure that disabled people are protected through its localism agenda otherwise it can no longer claim that those with the broadest shoulders are carrying the greatest burden.”
The campaign group Don’t Cut Us Out is fighting to protect the interests of disabled and infirm people across the county who it says are now vulnerable due to £31m budget cuts being imposed on adults services over the next three years.
A spokesperson for campaign said: “The report highlights the fact that West Sussex is increasing the cost of meals at day centre services by 23.5 per cent and has raised the eligibility for care service from a lower ‘moderate’ level, to the higher ‘substantial’ and ‘critical’ levels of need.
“Further, WSCC is now deducting 15 per cent of the amount of a personal budget before giving it to a person with mental health needs.
“Personal budgets are cash payments that can be given to disabled people who are eligible for care and support services to buy their own services, rather than have them provided by the council.”
A West Sussex County Council spokesman said: “West Sussex County Council has to make £79m savings over the next three years.
“However, nearly 80 per cent of the cut to the council budget is being found not by service cutbacks, but by management improvements, streamlining the organisation and cutting bureaucracy.
“Cuts to frontline services have been kept to an absolute minimum but cannot be avoided completely. Where cuts to services have been made, the decision has been taken following consultation and ensuring alternative community services would be available.
“The report by Demos has been discredited by a number of professional organisations including the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS).
“Trying to compare different councils in this way is meaningless. A number of councils didn’t respond to the Demos Freedom of Information request and others didn’t respond in full, so to present the results as a ‘scientific league table’ is completely inaccurate. ADASS themselves say Demos has ranked councils using criteria that are discredited.”