Harrowing details about how proposed increases to social care charges could impact some of Greenwich borough’s most vulnerable disabled residents have been heard at an emotional meeting.
Among the statements from locals were that any increase would force them to cut their own spending on necessities such as food and clothes, as well as potentially driving some to depression and suicide.
The distressing accounts were heard at the borough’s healthier communities and adult social care scrutiny committee, where residents’ feedback on the 10-point approach, aimed at clawing back £1.6m a year, were heard.
Among the proposals are increases to charges for disabled residents’ homecare services, an end to subsidised meals, and charging residents who can afford to pay for sheltered and supported housing.
They form part of a package of proposals the council says will make the service more sustainable and bring it into line with other local authorities.
The proposals were due to be decided at a cabinet meeting in October; however, a decision was deferred at the last minute, with councillors deciding to send it to a scrutiny meeting first. The move drew a fiery response from residents, may of whom are wheelchair users who face difficulties getting to the council’s Woolwich town centre headquarters. 853 reported on that meeting.
However, councillors emphasised it would allow members of the public to have their say on the proposals.
Residents return to town hall
Nearly three months later, many of those same residents returned to the town hall, with public speakers telling councillors of the pressures any increased costs would put on them.
Sue Elsegood, the chair of disability advocacy group Metro Gad, told the committee that service users were “often anxious and stressed” due to already difficult living conditions, and that these hardships could lead to “severe depression which sometimes leads to a risk of suicide”.
“This risk will be severely increased if these proposals aren’t refused,” Ms Elsegood, who uses a wheelchair and respirator, said. “There’s nothing left in the bottom of the barrel. [This proposal needs to be] totally abandoned before lives are lost. Scrap it now.”
Another speaker – a long-term carer for her disabled 25-year-old son – said previous cuts to services and the NHS had led to her paying for such necessities as handwash and toilet paper for carers.
“It’s going make a huge impact – I have to pay for people to wash their hands – when you come to work you don’t have to bring your soap or your toilet paper … it’s embarrassing. Its just degrading on so many levels,” she said in an emotional address to councillors.
“I don’t get a holiday, I don’t get weekends off, I don’t even get overnight care – without his [current level of] care I can’t even go to my own hospital appointments – its not just him that impacts, it’s me.
“You just don’t know which way to turn … I understand everyone’s struggling, but we’re struggling the most.”
Kate Brown and Claire Gasman, of a disability support group for women, WinVisible, had similar sentiments.
Brown, who said she was left in a wheelchair after being stabbed in a homophobic attack, told the committee the changes would lead to her paying £105 in charges per week, up from £65.
“This sounds overdramatic, but if I had to cut down to pay the extra, it would be on food, or the clothes and bedding that I need as I am double incontinent.”
‘National funding crisis’
Ms Gasman said WinVisible had helped multiple service users driven to suicide by previous cuts to spending and what she called “a brutal benefits system”.
“The council creates the crisis, and then us local organisations are there telling people not to kill themselves,” Ms Gasman said.
Ahead of comments from residents, council officers outlined the charges, and the financial backdrop which the authority was struggling with.
Damon Cook, assistant director of corporate finance, said the council was currently facing a £25m overspend within services over the medium term.
He added that, almost a decade into austerity, the authority had absorbed £130m in pressures in that time.
Other council officers explained that a “national funding crisis” for adult social care was occurring around the country, with data from 2018/19 showing that Greenwich spends more than average on adult social care.
That funding crisis has seen the gross cost of care increase by 36 per cent since 2014/15, while client income contribution has increased just four per cent.
“Our proposals to change the contribution policy are so that those that can afford to pay, do, and protect those that can’t,” attendees were told.
The issue will return to the scrutiny panel tonight, where members will make a recommendation. A final decision will be taken by Greenwich cabinet members on 29 January.
Lachlan Leeming is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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