Flash Says…

Stealth Cuts and the Spending Review

Posted on: 2010-11-12

[Crossposted to Where's The Benefit where I am one of the team.]

While massive spending cuts hit us all, my council – Waltham Forest – has taken the step of asking its residents where they should make savings. A friendly green website presented me with 8 different categories such as “children’s services” and “your streets” and invited me to make cuts of £55m. Suddenly I realised the mammoth scale of this undertaking – the way that no facilities or services can escape unscathed. However, I gave myself the challenge of maintaining adult social care at its current rate.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think adult social care is currently even adequate in my borough. I have been told that if someone can manage to give themself a flannel-bath, then they are not entitled to any kind of care. Of course this doesn’t take account of any inability to cook safely, nor to take out the rubbish or manage laundry! But simply trying to juggle cuts while keeping rates of social care at their current level made me aware of the huge task that councils are facing.

Each topic came with a slider – I simply had to pick categories and drag them to save money, and the website would let me know the impact of my actions. For example as I removed all funding from “Sport & Leisure” I was informed that the impact would be “reduced support to voluntary sector sports clubs, reduced sports activities in parks and estates and reduced sports activities and participation in competitions and events”. While any cutback is a shame, I don’t feel guilty in removing sports activities when compared to helping disabled people to eat, be clean and maintain independence.

However, although there are eight categories and sliders to adjust, it is instantly clear that some categories will have little impact in making the £55m of required savings. After all, the total budget for Housing & Homelessness is just £4.85m. For Culture, Learning & Community Libraries the budget is £6.91m. In fact, if I set 6 of the 8 sliders to zero – removing all funding in those categories whatsoever – I still need to save another £28m. This money can only come from Children’s Services & Education, or the Adult Social Care that I am fighting to protect. In fact if I maintain adult care at its current level, the system shows me that I have no choice but to cut Children’s Services by more than 25%, removing several social workers and forcing large numbers of at-risk children to stay in their home rather than go into care – something which the real world would not tolerate. My changes would even impose the removal of care packages for disabled children; it seems that whichever way I go, with the huge quantity of cuts required, there will be a direct impact on disabled people one way or another.

Because adult social care comprises such a very large proportion of a council’s expenditure, it’s natural that many people will think that this is an obvious way to make savings. And although any such cutback is abhorrent to my mind, it may be essential in order for our councils to stay solvent. I am pleasantly surprised that although adult social care draws so much money, respondents to Waltham Forest’s website have only voted for a 7% reduction in our services. “Only” 7%. If the council implement cutbacks based on this consultation, they will “only” …increase charges for their services (when many service users may be on benefits and unable to contribute financially for their care) …reduce programmes to support vulnerable people and their carers …and make staffing cuts so there will be even longer delays for assessments than there are at the moment.

Wow. Yet when I play with the figures myself, I can see that this may be a lucky escape – no matter how bad it seems, things can always be worse!

Unfortunately, in the three weeks that this website has been running, only 733 people have responded. That’s a quarter of 1% of everyone who lives in the area. How disappointing, that we are offered this opportunity to have our say and shape service provision for the future, and yet barely anyone bothers? It’s not for want of publicity, as a flyer went out with “Waltham Forest News”, a council newspaper delivered to every household in the borough.

I am utterly opposed to cuts of services and benefits which help disabled and older people to remain independent. I am increasingly concerned about these “stealth” cuts made by boroughs, where there is no right of appeal. But even I must admit that I can’t see what the solution is, other than to hope the economy recovers quickly, and that disabled people are the first to have their services reinstated when more funds are available.

In the meantime, I fear hearing about the human side of these cuts. I already see case studies in the local paper, I know people who are struggling, and situations where older or disabled neighbours have to provide food for one another. I know this is already happening on my own doorstep and I am dreading the situation getting worse. It seems the councils are between a rock and a hard place. All we can do is tell them to cut anything, everything, but adult social care.

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