Activists from around East Sussex have held a protest against budget cuts proposed by the county council.
Groups including the union GMB, the Eastbourne People’s Assembly (EPA) and the Labour Party as well as others affected by the cuts to the council’s adult social care funding attended the protest in Eastbourne town centre today (January 30).
The protest comes after East Sussex county councillors sent a joint letter to David Cameron and George Osborne saying the cuts to its central government funding would “significantly reduce the quality of life” for people in the county.
A spokesman for the EPA said, “These cuts will be compounded by the many cuts in welfare benefits, cuts which are leading to an increase in poverty and deprivation in Eastbourne, as indicated by the ever-increasing numbers of local residents turning to local foodbanks, charities, and churches for support.”
The group also say the cuts to voluntary services will put greater pressure on other public bodies - such as the police, NHS and the council’s own social services.
A final decision on the proposed cuts will be made at a full council budget meeting on February 9.
The spokesman added, “East Sussex county councillors must stand up for their constituents and vote against the cuts on February 9.
“The council is right to say that central government has unfairly reduced its grant to local councils, but it is morally wrong and inhumane to make the weakest and most vulnerable in our town take on the burden of the austerity policy that the government is forcing local councils to work within.”
The cuts come as the council faces a £70 million funding shortfall over the next three years following a major reduction in central government funding.
Alongside a 3.99 per cent increase to its council tax precept and major cuts to adult social care, the Conservative-led authority has proposed to end its funding for a number of voluntary organisations and close ESCC-run open access provision at children’s centres.
The decision has been widely criticised by charities and other anti-austerity groups who say the cuts will hit vulnerable people the hardest.
One group, the Stroke Association, said the proposed cuts were “outrageous”.
Sandra Field, a spokeswoman for the association, said, “This council’s proposal means that we will help fewer people. The impact will be devastating not only for stroke survivors but their carers too. It is outrageous that this is even being considered by local councillors.”
She added, “We are calling on residents in East Sussex to get in touch with their local councillors to stop this now. We also want people to join the Stroke Association and our service users at the council meeting on February 9 to make it clear to the council that we’ll fight this all the way.”
The criticism has also been backed by the union GMB.
Rachel Verdin, GMB group organiser, said, “The latest round of cuts, which will decimate services from adult social care to public health and children’s services, are not only crippling in themselves but the impact of them will send shockwaves through the area for years to come. “
The union also called on the council’s highest paid staff to take a pay cut in response to the proposed savings.
Ms Verdin said, “GMB have already called on the best paid in the authority to feel the pinch alongside those further down the pecking order. We know that the top six posts of East Sussex Corporate Management team are paid in excess of £1m with on-costs like national insurance.
“This is not a glib comment. We are clearly aware of the importance of good management, but feel that with another £70-£90m worth of savings to be found by 2019 those at top of the authority should lead by example.
“The proposed impact of services facing the axe is astounding and we know that the knock-on effect will shape the needs of residents, families and service users for years to come.”
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