Campaigners fail to change county council’s ‘cruel’ stance of care cuts

Hugh Campkin, Joanna Hartley and Kathy Kramers outside County Hall
Hugh Campkin, Joanna Hartley and Kathy Kramers outside County Hall

‘Don’t Cut Us Out’ campaigners pressing for a better deal from West Sussex County Council failed to win the day at a council meeting on Friday.

They had submitted a petition calling for reconsideration of cutbacks in social care which have saved millions of pounds, and their case was put at the start of a debate by Peter Adams, who suffers from severe muscular dystrophy. He urged councillors: “Change these cruel policies, and don’t cut us out.”

But the financial predicament facing the authority was spelled out by county council leader Louise Goldsmith (Con, Chichester West), who warned: “If we raid our savings, even bit by bit, tomorrow we will have no savings. They took years to build up, and would take minutes to spend.”

The county council finally voted to back a proposal put forward by Mark Dunn (Con, Bourne) – ‘that this council continues its work initiated by the cabinet member and the health and adults’ social care select committee to provide yet more focused and effective continuing care for those in greatest need of community support.’

An alternative tabled by Liberal Democrat deputy leader James Walsh (Littlehampton East) was rejected. This called on the council to commission an independent assessment of the effects on those now ineligible for some or all of their previous care funding and of those who might be seeking care packages in the near future.

It also proposed setting up representative user and carer-led policy forums to help formulate future policy alongside officers and councillors, and for consideration of ‘partial or full reinstatement’ of the ‘fair access to care services’ moderate eligibility threshhold.

As campaigners crowded into the public gallery after a demonstration outside County Hall, Mr Adams said: “Many of us have lost care, and find ourselves trapped in our own homes.”

Dr Walsh claimed it was essential the council had a rethink, and revisited some of the problems people were facing as a result of the cuts. But cabinet member Peter Catchpole (Con, Holbrook) said excluding adults’ services from budget reductions would have meant many other things would have gone by now. Steve Waight (Con, Goring) said the county council could not fund ongoing service support from reserves. It would run out of money if it did so. The vast majority of the reserves were either set against spending already done in the past, like schools, which needed to be paid for, things they were doing at the moment, like street lighting, and commitments for the future, like waste facilities. There was just under £18m in the general reserve. This was an awful lot of money, but represented just 3.6 per cent of the county council’s annual £500m spending on services.

Mr Dunn said public services were under considerable pressure, with an increasing elderly population needing more care, and an explosion of the birth rate, so there were more young people. “We have to harden our hearts against emotional judgments and short-term measures,” he declared.

Mrs Goldsmith said: “We live in very harsh times, and they aren’t going to get better for many years to come. We still have an obligation to deliver services to all our residents across the county. The balance is hard – whatever we give to one, we take away from another. The balance is to get fairness to all our community.”

In a closing statement, campaign representative Margaret Guest said: “We are simply asking you on behalf of vulnerable people to reconsider your decision about not making some small use of reserves to lift the burden on those who seem to be carrying most of the burden of our economic difficulties.”