West Sussex one of the worst counties for blind people, says RNIB

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West Sussex has seen one of the biggest drops in care and support being offered to blind and partially sighted people by the local council, a shocking new report by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) reveals today.

West Sussex County Council has seen an 86 per cent drop since 2005 - placing it 3rd in the top 20 worst local authorities in England.

‘Facing Blindness Alone’ reveals between 2005 and 2013, there has been a 43 per cent decline in the number of blind and partially sighted people in England getting even the most basic types of council support - down from 55,875 people to 31,740, nearly 25,000 fewer people.

If trends continue, in just 10 years’ time we could be in the very real position that not a single blind or partially sighted person will receive any support from their council to remain independent, states an RNIB press release.

The research, commissioned by RNIB, shows that although care and support has declined for all adults with a physical disability (30%), people with sight loss have been the worst affected (43%).

RNIB’s Chief Executive, Lesley-Anne Alexander CBE said: “Every year 23,000 people in England lose their sight. Invariably this has a devastating impact on their lives. Not only does sight loss have a massive emotional impact, but it also means having to re-learn almost every aspect of your life.

“Shockingly people living with sight loss are increasingly losing out whether it is specialist support, rehabilitation or even help with basic activities, such as learning how to cook a meal or going outdoors safely. If you are blind or partially sighted and you have care needs, the prospects of getting council care and support are fast diminishing.

“Being left alone to cope with sight loss is wholly unacceptable. No matter how tight the budgets of Government are, this is essential support which must be provided. The Government needs to act now.”

RNIB is calling on the Government to make changes to the Care Bill and ensure: All newly blind and partially sighted people are offered rehabilitation to help get back on their feet after first being diagnosed; Rehabilitation isn’t limited to just six weeks as often blind people need longer to gain the new skills needed to remain independent; Longer term care assessments properly recognise the barriers blind and partially sighted people face in remaining independent and that the necessary support is provided.

A growing number of local authorities are severely restricting access to rehabilitation or only offering a strict six week course, when often blind people need longer to gain the new skills needed to remain independent.

In fact since 2005, the number of blind and partially sighted people receiving professional support, such as help from a rehabilitation officer, has fallen by more than 70 per cent.

Rehabilitation could include learning to get out of your home and into town using a long cane, or help using aids in the kitchen so you can still cook for yourself. However, the research found huge regional variations in the support offered by local authorities.

Some councils are making people wait many months before getting in touch and even then may not provide a service. Finally, a few are restricting access to rehabilitation by basically telling people they are not disabled enough.

The report reveals: Northamptonshire is estimated to have 19,000 people living with sight loss, however just one rehabilitation officer is in post; Essex has just three rehabilitation officers, fewer than a number of London boroughs (Bromley, Croydon and Tower Hamlets). This is despite the population of Essex being more than four to five times greater than these boroughs.

But how many rehabilitation officers does West Sussex have? The County Council has been approached for comment and to react to its third worst ranking in the RNIB’s new report.

Rehabilitation should be offered to newly diagnosed people when they are first diagnosed, however a quarter of local authorities don’t provide rehab to newly diagnosed people unless they’ve had an assessment of their care needs first. Potentially this could be leaving many people waiting months for help to get back on their feet.

A study estimates that for every £1 invested in care and support to assist adults with “moderate care needs” the state benefits through a net return on investment totalling £1.30.

In addition a study by the University of York concluded that providing a quality rehabilitation service is associated with a significant decrease in the subsequent costs of social care.

To take action now visit www.rnib.org.uk/campaigns and lobby your MP.