Concerns over cuts to 'vital' support for disabled people across West Sussex

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Concerns are being raised over funding cuts to a group that provides crucial support to hundreds of people with disabilities across West Sussex.

West Sussex County Council is removing £250,000 annual funding for the disability advocacy charity Impact Initiatives which helps more than 450 vulnerable people a year with learning disabilities, autism, physical disabilities, sensory disabilities and acquired brain injury.

Liberal Democrat councillors in West Sussex say they are ‘horrified’ at the funding cuts and Victoria Littlejohn, a committee member of

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Asperger's Syndrome Self Advocacy West Sussex, said: “This ensures that the entire disability advocacy service in West Sussex will end after September.”

West Sussex County Council is cutting its annual £250,000 funding to a group which provides a vital service to hundreds of people with disabilities across the county. Photo: PixabayWest Sussex County Council is cutting its annual £250,000 funding to a group which provides a vital service to hundreds of people with disabilities across the county. Photo: Pixabay
West Sussex County Council is cutting its annual £250,000 funding to a group which provides a vital service to hundreds of people with disabilities across the county. Photo: Pixabay

She said that Impact Initiatives provided a ‘vital’ service. “Any problem a disabled adult may be facing, this service helps them to fight for their rights. This has included problems such as learning disabled parents about to lose their babies to foster care; people about to be made homeless; people going hungry and in need of referrals to foodbanks.

"Many disabled people do not have the wherewithal to be able to navigate the complicated pathways in life, whether that's housing, support, childcare, benefits, or suffering discrimination. This service is vital.”

People are angry that the county council has decided to withdraw the funding at short notice and without any previous discussion.

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Councillor Kate O’Kelly, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for health and adult services, said: “Instead of letting councillors know that a decision was pending which would allow us to engage and shape the plan, and advocate for these services, the council has just allowed the contract to lapse over the summer and has hidden behind technicalities as to why they didn’t inform us.

"Councillors have only found out about this change after being contacted by local residents, which will leave the adults who need our support the most without support. This decision needs to be urgently scrutinised by the members of the council on behalf of our vulnerable residents.

"I have called for it to be taken as an urgent item at the health and adults social care committee.”

Councillor Stuart Condie said: “I was contacted by the Asperger’s Voice Self Advocacy Group about the loss of this service. I am appalled that such a valuable service is being allowed to lapse without a suitable alternative being provided. The answers to my questions so far have been far from satisfactory.”

A petition has now been launched. See bit.ly/45k7rHY

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Meanwhile, a West Sussex County Council spokesperson said: “We took the decision to allow the non-statutory advocacy service contract with Impact Initiatives to end on September 30 following a review to ensure we are delivering the right support at the right time and to provide a more holistic support offer across the county.

“We appreciate that for many people the service coming to an end is a difficult prospect. However, advocacy support is still available, and the county council’s priority is to work with Impact Initiatives and the people who use their service to ensure they continue to receive the appropriate level of support for their needs during this period and beyond.

“The principle of helping people to live independently and fulfil their potential is at the heart of our council plan priorities and our ambitions for adult social care across West Sussex.

“We are continuing to provide support to people who have substantial difficulty to exercise choice or represent their own interests due to a disability, health condition or communication difficulty, or where processes are particular complex to navigate, through the Sussex-wide contract arrangement with POhWER, which is separate from the arrangement with Impact Initiatives.

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“While there was no duty to consult in this instance because the contract was coming to an end, we were in contact with impact Initiatives as early as possible to engage with them to identify support for people’s needs during this period and beyond.”

However, Victoria Littlejohn added: “The council keep on mentioning that this specialist advocacy contract with Impact Initiatives is non-statutory, and referring to the continuing statutory advocacy contract with PowHer, however this is for very specific situations, such as those who have been sectioned, and does not apply to any of the self-advocacy group members nor the issue based advocacy service users.”