Dossier of shame on care cuts

A NEW dossier of shame has been drawn up by a campaign group fighting to protect the elderly, sick and disabled in West Sussex.

Monday, 16th April 2012, 2:25 pm

The dossier shows how West Sussex County Council has made massive spending cuts to vulnerable groups while stashing away millions of pounds in savings for a rainy day. West Sussex County Council says that there is no alternative but to cut front-line services and care support to 4,500 disabled and elderly people across the county. 

But the Don’t Cut Us Out Campaign says the council spends 40 per cent of its annual budget on adults’ services, “and has used accountancy, rather than common sense and fairness, to determine how to divide up their ‘required’ £79m budget reduction.”

Campaign members have come up with shocking figures that show startling cuts in services and payments to people in need.

Campaign spokesperson Barry Pickthall said: “From the first 3,214 reassessments of elderly and disabled during 2011/12, 12 per cent of elderly people, and people with physical and sensory impairments, have been found ineligible for any services and have lost their entire care packages.

“Fifty three per cent had had their care package reduced in value, leaving them less able to cope with living independently.

“Twenty per cent of people with learning disabilities lost their entire care package.

“Fifty two per cent of people with learning disabilities have had their care package reduced.  

“Eleven per cent of people with mental health disabilities have lost all their care support

“Fifty four per cent of people with mental health disabilities had their care and support reduced.”

The average cut in care support for the elderly and those with physical and sensory impairments was £31 per week.

For those with learning difficulties, the average cut is £47 per week.

The average cut for those with mental health disabilities is £37 per week.

However, some of the most serious cases in all categories have lost as much as £300 a week.

The average cut in weekly care support across all categories is £33 per week (£1,716 per year.)

Meanwhile, the council has ploughed £31 million into its reserves.

Said Barry: “While WSCC is cutting care to the vulnerable and closing day centres across the county, Tory Councillors have been quietly building reserves to record levels.

“In March 2010 when these cuts were first introduced, council reserves stood at £108 million. This year they stand at £146 million - a £38 million increase. More than enough to cover all the cuts and suffering being imposed on the disabled and elderly.

“In February this year, the council decided to stash away an eye-watering £15.8m in reserves - twice the amount that the Tory council is cutting from adult services this year.”

Leader of the county council Labour group Brenda Smith said: “The Tories are pouring money into the reserves for a rainy day. Unfortunately for many of our most vulnerable residents in the county, it is pouring with rain already. Their need is now. They are having services slashed away from them regardless of age.”

Campaign group members highlight how the county council has “wasted” £100,000 on PR, making You-Tube films of themselves and online advice videos on subjects such as ‘how to wash your hands’ and ‘how to make a phone call.’

The WSCC YouTube film unit cost £40,000 to set up, and £26,000 a year to run. Of the 54 video clips on the site, which include personal political interviews with cabinet members, 23 have viewing figures of less than 200 over the past year.

Said Barry: “The £100,000 spent to date could fund the cuts in social care funding for 58 vulnerable people in West Sussex.”

He also points out that Kieran Stigant, WSCC chief executive who earns £175,000 a year - £57,500 more than Prime Minister– could be given a 20per cent bonus this year. That’s an extra £35,000, pushing his total pay packet above £200,000. “His bonus alone would fund an average cut in benefits for 20 vulnerable people for the year.

Meanwhile, 19 staff within WSCC earn more than £100,000 a year. By comparison, East Sussex CC has just 12 employees earning over £100,000.

The Don’t Cut Us Out Campaign says the council is still spending large sums on consultants, paying some up to £2,400 per day to make decisions for which they are also paying managers. In 2009/10, WSCC spent £3.5million on consultants who looked at how the council should organise itself. “This sum,” says the campaign, “would cover the average cut in benefits for 2,039 vulnerable people.” And it adds, council leader Louise Goldsmith can claim personal allowances of £40,000 a year - enough to fund the average benefit cuts of 23 vulnerable people.

In other spending, the county council is contributing £1.5 million to Chichester Festival Theatre towards its redevelopment. “This money,” say campaign members, “would have been better spent redeveloping WSCC day centres and other facilities that the disabled and elderly rely on, rather than close council day centres in Midhurst, Horsham and Pulborough.”

Elderly people in the county face an increase of 8 per cent for theMeals on Wheels service and a 19 per cent increase for meals served at day centres. At the same time, says the Campaign group, the council has sacked skilled cooks and instead provides frozen meals for re-heating.

Disabled or elderly people using a council day centre five times a week must now pay an extra £130 a year.

Said Barry: “The council says it has frozen council tax to protect hard-pressed residents, but all it has done is shift the tax burden onto those disabled and elderly frail residents who are even more hard-pressed than the rest of us.”

The Don’t Cut Us Out Campaign says that WSCC is rated one of the worst councils in the country for how it is cutting care support to disabled and elderly residents.

In a survey published by an independent think tank, WSCC finished up 143rd out of 152 local councils. By comparison:Kent was ranked 14th, Hampshire – 30th, East Sussex – 74th, the Isle of Wight – 83rd and Surrey – 87th. Added Barry: “The Don’t Cut Us Out Campaign has shown that cutting benefits and care support to the disabled and elderly will not save money.

“Expert after expert say that when you take away care support from those with ‘moderate’ disabilities, they quickly slip down to ‘substantial’ and even ‘critical’ levels and require much more financial support as a result - but not before enduring enormous distress and trauma.”

Meanwhile West Sussex County Council is refusing to comment at all on the campaigners’ dossier.

A spokesman said this week: “West Sussex County Council has taken the decision not to comment on claims made by the Don’t Cut Us Out campaign.

“We have invited them to get involved in influencing plans by joining with the many other organisations helping to shape future provision.

“Unfortunately, they seem to prefer chasing negative headlines by packaging up inaccurate, outdated and misleading claims.

“Even when we point out inaccuracies in their claims they persist in repeating rather than rectifying them.

“We do not think it is in the interest of concerned vulnerable people or the public at large to continue to give them a platform.

“A detailed rebuttal of the claims, which seem to have been pulled together from a mish mash of sources would be time consuming and not a good use of scarce council resources.”