Council admits £53m cuts are risk to disabled and elderly

Norfolk Council has admitted it risks limiting disabled and older people's independence and quality of life through a planned £53m cut to adult social care over the next three years.

Norfolk Council has admitted it risks limiting disabled and older people’s independence and quality of life through a planned £53m cut to adult social care over the next three years.

The plans, which are out to consultation, involve slashing preventive services, mental health spending and day care, squeezing care providers, raising eligibility thresholds to critical only and increasing care charges.

Sparked by the government’s comprehensive spending review last week, the council plans to reduce staff by 3,000 and slash spending by £150m over the next three years.

More than one-third of savings will come in adult social care, on which the council spent £390m last year.

Its own equality impact assessment on the plans said the proposals would “significantly impact on disabled people, their carers and families”, as well as older people.

“It may limit disabled and older people’s independence and resources, and affect their quality of life and mobility across the

county,” the assessment concluded. “It may restrict their access to the built environment, public transport and leisure activities. It may increase their vulnerability to loneliness and social isolation, and place greater responsibilities of care on their families, friends and colleagues.”

The biggest hit – £18m over the three years – will be on preventive services, including Supporting People, assistive technology and funding for the third sector.

The councils also plans to cease providing day centres by 2012, saving £7.7m, cut transport funding for social care users (£6.7m) and squeeze providers (£4.7m) by freezing care fees in 2011-12 and raising them by only 1% in 2012-13.

It is proposing to save £1.4m by raising eligibility criteria from substantial to critical only, putting it among only a handful of councils that limit formal care services to people with the highest needs; £1.6m would be cut from mental health services next year.

Norfolk also plans to save £1.5m by promoting self-assessments by service users, which would “prioritise social work need on people in greatest need”.

“It will have a devastating effect,” said Mark Harrison, chief executive of Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People. “It’s going to set the clock back 15 to 20 years in terms of disability rights and independent living. People will be prisoners in their own homes and beds.”

“We are concerned about the impact of the proposals,” said Eamon McGrath, community development manager at Age Concern Norfolk. He said cutting preventive services while raising eligibility to critical only was “short-sighted” and would “store up problems for the future”. The charity has launched a campaign – Cut Cake Not Care – against the cuts, calling on the council to reconsider them.

“All authorities are facing the same situation,” said David Harwood, the council’s portfolio holder for adult social care. “We have to protect those who are most vulnerable as much as we can.”

He said this could involve investing more in adult safeguarding, and that the council would not raise eligibility thresholds if it could be avoided. The council would seek to protect services through more joint work with the local primary care trust.

However, Harwood added: “We have a high elderly population. Last year the number of people who needed assessments went up by 44%. We have to look at where we can have the maximum effect.”

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