Reducing allowances for disabled people would be '˜shameful' say campaigners

A reduction in allowances paid to disabled people in West Sussex would be '˜totally shameful', campaigners have warned.

Margaret Guest, chair of Don't Cut us Out, pictured in 2014
Margaret Guest, chair of Don't Cut us Out, pictured in 2014

Although West Sussex County Council is increasing its total spending in adult social care and health by £10.9m in 2016/17, it has also listed £6.5m of cuts and income generating measures within the department.

A report suggests that additional income could be received from people with social care needs, as they already pay a means tested contribution towards the cost of their care, but these may increase due to rises to the state pension.

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Margaret Guest, chair of Don’t Cut Us Out, which campaigns on behalf of vulnerable people in need of care and support in West Sussex, said: “This amounts to a tax on care for very vulnerable older people, with already dwindling resources towards the end of their lives. It is unjust and unfair.”

She added: “WSCC is also proposing reducing allowances for additional costs such as special diets and laundry, when calculating a disabled person’s financial contribution to their care.

“This will increase the amount disabled people have to pay for care when most are already on very low incomes.

“It is totally shameful that vulnerable people who have already borne the brunt of previous cuts now also have to shoulder the burden of the council’s apparent lack of prudence and competence in its financial planning.”

The report suggests that £1.9m could be saved from disability related expenditure (DRE) over the next two years.

For people with non-residential care packages the financial assessment gives them an allowance of up to £25 per week on spending categorised as DRE, and around 2,500 people receive this.

The report reads: “The weakness of the current arrangement is that it can be relatively generous for those with relatively low levels of needs, while those with very high levels of disability receive a capped amount.”

It suggests that when new customers are assessed a professional judgement will be made about any financial assistance for additional needs, while people already receiving the allowance will continue to do so until their case is reviewed.

The report added: “The outcome of these proposals is that some people will pay a greater contribution towards their care costs and some people will pay much less.”

Don’t Cut Us Out will be asking residents about their views on the proposals prior to the budget debate on Friday February 19.

Jeremy Hunt (Con, Chichester North), cabinet member for finance, explained that Government cuts to WSCC’s funding had been ‘much steeper than we could have reasonably anticipated’, leaving them with a £153m funding gap over the next four years.

A 3.95 per cent increase in WSCC’s share of council tax is being proposed from April, which would add £45.90 a year for a Band D property. Two per cent of this would be purely to fund adult social care.

During a Performance and Finance Select Committee meeting last week, Steve Waight (Con, Goring) suggested that leader Louise Goldsmith had undergone a ‘road to Damascus experience’ over the Christmas period on council tax increases.

He went on to suggest that it was a ‘political decision’ to reduce the amount of savings needed to balance the budget.

Officers explained that the overall four years savings target had reduced slightly, but they needed to be ‘appropriate and deliverable’.

On further collaboration with district and borough councils to make savings Mike Glennon (UKIP, Lancing), leader of the UKIP group at WSCC, said he was ‘amazed and surprised’ not to see more effort.

He added: “This is a financial jigsaw we are going to get together and we do not have the pieces to build it and that’s the absolute truth.”

Mrs Goldsmith recognised Mr Glennon’s commitment to unitary authorities, but said thaey were looking at the situation in a different way, highlighting the prospects of devolution, and suggested there was not the ‘fat there was back in 2010’.

Meanwhile Morwen Millson (LDem, Horsham Riverside) said she was puzzled by how central Government had approached this year’s financial settlement, while the costs of care to authorities like WSCC was ‘increasing dramatically’. She added: “The National Living Wage throws a grenade into the whole pot as well.”

The week before members of WSCC’s Environmental and Community Services Select Committee expresssed concerns at cuts to the highways budget.

Heidi Brunsdon (Con, Imberdown) said highways and transport was the most visual of all the services that the county council provided, and said they had ‘absolutely no detail’ on how the cuts would be practically delivered.

Philip Circus (Con, Storrington) added: “Why are we looking at a reduction of £2m when it seems to me we are cutting what most people feel are core public services.”

He continued: “When we are in a position of cutting what our communities see as core public services I think it’s time to think again.”

John O’Brien (Con, East Grinstead South and Ashurst Wood), cabinet member for highways and transport, said they were facing big reductions in budgets across the council. He added: “Some of the savings may be painful.”

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