Public sector cuts: Centre helping those with learning disabilities faces 33% cut

West Sussex council plans to save £2.2m over the next year, and 9,000 vulnerable people will have their needs reassessed

For 14 years, four days a week, Andrew Pickthall, who has Down’s syndrome, has gone to the Aldingbourne country centre to help out on a range of projects from wood recycling to organic vegetable farming. But now he faces the withdrawal of the funding that creates this lifeline for him.

The 32-year-old fears he will be judged to have only “moderate” needs for care and support under a review ordered by West Sussex county council to begin on 1 April. If so, he will lose the £21-a-day funding to enable him to attend the centre near Fontwell.

Following a decision by West Sussex’s the lead councillor for adult services, Peter Catchpole, the Conservative-run authority plans to save £2.2m in 2011-2, and £4.3m the year after, by joining other councils that limit provision to people with “substantial” or “critical” needs. The council says it will reinvest £750,000 in voluntary groups that provide alternative services.

Over the coming six months, about 9,000 people will have their needs reassessed by West Sussex to determine if they remain eligible. A campaign group that is taking the decision to judicial review in the names of Pickthall and four others. Don’t Cut Us Out – West Sussex claims that consultation was flawed, alternatives were not considered and that Catchpole over-ruled his own adult services committee.

Barry Pickthall, Andrew’s father, said: “For consultation, read, ‘This is what we are going to do’. The whole thing was done on the premise that there was no other solution.”

West Sussex is making some of the deepest cuts to adult social care services in the UK. Representatives say the council needs to save £79m over three years, of which £31m is to be taken from adult services. The move to stop funding people with moderate needs “brings it in line” with eight in 10 English authorities.

In a statement when he announced his decision Catchpole said: “I have been reassured by officers that other services will be in place for those directly affected by this decision.”

Barry Pickthall said his son, who lives independently in Bognor Regis, would likely be considered to have only moderate needs because he can wash, dress and feed himself. He had a fulfilling life, but going to Aldingbourne was “the glue that held it all together”.

By contrast with West Sussex, Pickthall said, nearby Kent county council had rejected raising its eligibility criteria because, he believed, there was a realisation that stopping support for people with moderate needs would increase costs when those needs became more serious. Sue Livett, managing director of the Aldingbourne trust which runs the country centre, said up to 100 of the 300 people with a learning disability it helped stood to lose funding .Only recently the county had been known for progressive social-care policies, as a pioneer of personal budgets, Livett said.

“I would go to conferences and people would look at me enviously. Now it just feels as though everything has gone into reverse.

“I have never felt so political as I do now. It has really got to me, all this.”