Fighting Disabled Services Cuts

Mums, dads, children and campaigners are pledging to fight £3.3m of disability cost-cutting proposals. The promise to fight comes after more than 80 protesters left Lewisham Council’s budget cabinet meeting fearing for the future of services provided for more than 500 disabled residents.

They hoped after listening to their fears, Lewisham Mayor Steve Bullock would change his budget recommendations on adult social care for the coming financial year. But Mr Bullock went ahead with his recommendation and the proposed budget faces a full council vote tomorrow.

The measures could include cuts to day centre places, reduction of grants for respite care services, a clampdown on the current provision of transport, and staffing reductions.

The council argues by continuing to provide the same services it did this financial year, it will end up with a budget overspend of £7.2m by March next year, which it says it cannot afford. It has offered to give an extra £2m from its reserves to adult social care.

But it also proposes to change its eligibility criteria for the way it assesses who will receive council help, to save more money. This could not be done automatically – a statutory 12-week consultation period would have to take place with service users for this to go ahead. The cabinet blames the Government for the situation, saying there is a national £1.5bn shortage of funding for adult social care.

Campaigners are asking Mr Bullock to break his election promise by increasing council tax by more than 2.5 per cent to bring in more cash – an option Mr Bullock has declined. From April, Lewisham’s council tax will rise by 2.5 per cent, putting the annual Band D bill up from £967 to £991.

An increase of an extra one per cent would add £9 to each bill in Band D per year – bringing in approximately £885,000. The full council will vote on the budget tomorrow. Proposals could be stopped if the majority of the 54 councillors disagree with the recommended budget.

Proposal By Numbers

  • Between April this year and March next year, the council will spend £250m on all services, but wants to make £13m of service cuts.
  • £7.2m of cuts could come from adult social care, because the council says it cannot afford to provide the same services it did this financial year.
  • A proposed total of £90.1m will be spent on Adult Social Care in between April this year and March next year.
  • The council proposes to make £1.72m of cuts automatically, with plans including cutbacks to transport and day care places.
  • It also wants to save £1.61m by changing the way it assesses people in need of help, but this would have to face a statutory 12-week consultation before it could go-ahead.
  • The council has allocated an extra £2m of funding from its reserves for adult social care.
  • But it needs to save a further £1.87m to meet the total £7.2m overspend but there is nothing in the budget to suggest where the cash will come from.
  • Priorities which the council says drive its budget include “Promoting independence and increase the life chances of vulnerable members of the community”.

Lewisham Mayor Steve Bullock said: “What we heard at the meeting was a small part of a bigger story. I have to look at the bigger picture. At the last election I said I would not put up council tax by more than 2.5 per cent in a year and it is something I feel I need to stick to. We are clear on what we need to do to make sure we are meeting needs of service users.”

He added: “We strive to balance needs of everyone in the borough with the need for value for money. It is the most difficult thing to get right. Someone has to make decisions in the end.”

Acting chairman of Lewisham Mencap Nick O’Shea wants Mr Bullock to veto his decision. He said: “They are going to cut services for the most vulnerable people in Lewisham and prioritising pools, roadworks and recycling ahead of them. I don’t see why the these people should be made to suffer. We will continue to fight them every step of the way on this.”

Peter Smith, project manager of disability support service Lewisham Speaking Up, offered to work with the council to come up with a solution. He said: “We want to work with you to review the risks. It is possible but it will take time. I would respectfully suggest the Mayor releases a free vote tomorrow. De-politicise the situation and give the councillors the right to choose and the right to say no to these cuts if they do not believe they are fair.”

Former Lewisham Mencap committee member Paul Crudge said: “They say there are not talking about closing down clubs. “If they cut back on transport to get people there, they will close because people will not be able to go.” He added: “I think people come before material things. Please do not go cutting these services back any more.”

Lewisham Green Party leader Darren Johnson is also behind the campaigners. He wants Mr Bullock to make a policy U-turn, provide £1.6m extra from council reserves and increase council tax.