Anger over county council care cuts

THOUSANDS of the most vulnerable people in Suffolk are to be told to make their own day care arrangements under plans to cut council spending by nearly £1million.

By Graham Dines

THOUSANDS of the most vulnerable people in Suffolk are to be told to make their own day care arrangements under plans to cut council spending by nearly £1million.

This “look after yourself” policy will be implemented after benefits advisers working for the authority have reviewed the financial circumstances of all people currently receiving care packages to ensure they are claiming all the state help to which they are entitled.

County councillors believe that millions of pounds of unclaimed benefits should be taken up by Suffolk's elderly and the cash used to pay for their day care.

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Graham Gatehouse, director of adult care and community services, said: “By claiming the benefits to which they are entitled, this will free them up to make their own choices because it will give them control over their own personal budgeting.”

He said this change in social policy was being directed by the Government and was leading to customer-led improvements in services at a time when the county council was facing massive budget pressures.

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Conservative politicians controlling Suffolk County Council lay the blame for the changes at the door of Whitehall, which axed the amount of support grant this year by more than £24m.

To cover this shortfall without increasing council tax, Suffolk has had to make savings in its budget and £14.5m has come from the biggest spending block, care and community services for adults.

More than £10m of the department's budget is to be saved by not filling vacancies, refusing to pay inflation increases to companies, charities and voluntary groups which provide adult care for the council, and reviewing the needs of all the people who currently receive day care packages.

Graham Newman, the councillor responsible for adult and community care services, “Shortfalls in central government funding have begun to reduce the ability of many councils to deliver all the services they would like.”

He said Suffolk had to make a net 9% reduction in budget compared to 2005/6, but added: “The county council remains committed to ensuring there is proper care for our most vulnerable citizens.

“We are developing new ways of supporting people to use a wide range of community services.”

To help limit the impact of the £800,000 day care cuts, the council would be helping current users of day care to make sure they were claiming all the benefits to which they were entitled so that they could “afford to contribute towards day care costs.”

Mr Newman said a similar exercise, in which benefits advisers worked with Suffolk's GPs, had helped older people claim £1m in benefits to which they were entitled.

The Tory cuts were immediately condemned by Kathy Pollard, leader of the council's Liberal Democrat and Independent group.

She said: “This will affect not only the elderly people themselves, but also those who care for them. Day services provide very welcome respite for families who may not be able to continue caring for relatives at home without these services.

“When the council's spending was set earlier this year, we could not understand why the roads budget faced fewer cuts in percentage terms than the budget for elderly people.

“The Conservatives have clearly decided that roads are more important than elderly people.”

Labour Group leader Julian Swainson said: “The Tories are making savage cuts of £14.5 million to the care and community service budget for adults.

“They have chosen to cut services to the most vulnerable in our community while spending increased sums in other areas such as the maintenance of minor roads.

“It is not government but Suffolk Tories who have chosen to put cars before care. Labour Councillors will keep up the fight for decent services for all Suffolk people, and fair treatment for our old and vulnerable residents.”

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