Monday, January 03, 2005

Liberal Democrat Cuts hit the Elderly

I've not had a chance to write about this little gem that came up before Christmas.

It seems that the Tory/LibDem coalition in the fair city of Birmingham are having to get used to the reality of power. For several years, there have been problems in the social services department and it gets no stars under the performance assessment scheme, although it is starting to improve. Not surprisingly, the Tories were only too glad to pass this political hot potato over to the Liberal Democrats as part of the deal to buy power. Sorry, I meant to type "consensual politics" there, but forgot. Never mind.

The cost of the service seems to be spiralling out of control. Before June, the overspend on this budget seemed likely to exceed £20 million, but the Liberal Democrat Cabinet member for Social Care, Sue Anderson, couldn't stem the cash loss and is set to splash out more than £27 million.

So, in the best tradition of their Tory masters, the Liberal Democrats are looking for quick fixes. The brilliant scheme that they have devised is to cut home help services for 1650 people in the City. These are people who need only a little extra help to ensure that they can continue to live independent lives, rather than facing conditions that may cause them additional health problems or force them into (more expensive) council care. Only if you have 'critical and substantial' need will you continue to get home help visits.

This was bad enough, but after the Evening Mail carried the story, La Anderson responded with a high-quality piece of political spin (11/12/4).

Firstly, she reassured readers that, "We are not cutting £7 million from our home care budget" and that, "Vulnerable elderly people will not be put at risk."

Then, she continued that they plan to review, "Who is eligible for.. services and.. release up to £7 million to invest in support services."

Now, that suggests to me that the function of the review is to CUT access to services to those who currently need them. If there was to be a genuine review, surely there might be the option to extend services to some who need them, but don't get them. This is a review with a pre-determined outcome of cuts.

But, fear not elderly folk! Sue has a solution! "We envisage a much larger supporting role for voluntary organisations." Ah - now all is clear. The council will withdraw services, so forcing the elderly or disabled to beg for help from charities. Nice to see that as a policy statement.

However, perhaps I'm being too cynical. Maybe the people who will be told soon that they will no longer receive council support to help them maintain their independence in life will be happy about it. As Sue herself puts it, "Those with more moderate needs will have more choices about who can best meet them." That's true. They will have the choice whether to beg for help or whether to struggle on regardless. Thanks for clearing that up. Only the Liberal Democrats could hope to dress these service cuts up as improving choice.

1 comment:

john said...

Voluntary means "non-Statutory" it does not mean that people are not paid.