The media hasn’t annoyed me too much over the last few days. No preposterous stories about disabled people claiming benefits whilst simultaneously being world famous lion tamers, using taxpayers’ cash for round the world solo hot air balloon trips, or employing a harem of illegal immigrants using Independent Living Funds.
So I thought I’d have a google to see if anything popped up. Nothing particularly exciting did, but there seems to be an increasing amount of stories about cuts to services for the disabled and mentally ill. Bearing in mind that many of these services provide a means of getting back into the work place or a step to voluntary work, these cuts can often appear to save money but in the long run are actually costing the country cash. So here’s a rundown of a few.
A garden in Southend, that provides horticultural therapy for upto 70 people with mental health problems, is facing cash shortfalls after the local council, PCT and lottery funding has either been reduced or ceased.
The Avondale mental health unit at the Royal Hospital in Preston (popn. 132,000) is threatened with closure. This would mean a trip to Chorley or Blackpool for service users, and would threaten a service opened only this year for 16-17 year olds, as well as causing concern that the (60+ a year) homeless people who use the service will have to return to sleeping rough.
A recycling scheme that provides training for people with learning disabilities in Leicestershire is under threat, with the County Council likely to withdraw funding. It has given people with Autism, Asperger’s Sydrome and Down’s Syndrome employment since 2006 as well as improving the quality of their lives and opportunities for further employment.
Croydon Council is scrapping the Community Business and Work scheme and the Community Enterprise Support Service . These two voluntary sector schemes tried to find jobs for people with disabilities, the CBW alone had helped to find employment for 100 people since September 2009. They have also cut funding to Treetop’s Childrens Centre, which provides support and respite to families with children who have severe disabilities including autism and cerebral palsy.
Three Day Centres for people with mental health problems in Nottinghamshire are earmarked for closure. The County Council is following Government advice to assign people with ‘personal budgets’ to allow them to choose their own services, instead of funding the day centres. The fact that many people would choose to use their personal budget to attend the closed day centres does not seem to have occured to them
The Enfield Clubhouse is facing a double threat. A place for people with severe and enduring mental health difficulties to socialise and engage in employment related activities, it is currently challenging a planning decision as well as facing funding cuts. Earlier this year, following demonstrations and a petition by local residents, it lost its planning permission to continue to use the premises as a non-residential dwelling. It had seemed likely that permission would be granted, until the neighbours’ demonstration, which seemed to be targeting the fact it is a service for people with mental illness. Placards bore slogans such as ‘We are not safe’ and ‘How many more’. Its worth noting that this demonstration took place on 24th June, less than 3 weeks after the Cumbrian shootings by Derrick Bird. There have been no incidents involving clubhouse members that would warrant such concerns.In addition to this threat, the local council has informed local voluntary sector organisations about their intention to withdraw all funding to mental health related employment initiatives from April 2011. This is a double blow to the clubhouse, and its future now hangs in the balance.
These are just a few of the many cuts to services for people with disabilities and mental health problems that have so far been announced. It seems likely that there will be many more popping up over the next few months, as the Government reduces funding to local councils.
Obviously cuts need to be made. However, it seems shortsighted that many of the organisations earmarked for closure are providing training and employment related functions. Closing these at a time when competition for every job is so fierce seems to be placing disabled people even further out of reach of employment. At the same time the Government is pushing people harder to find work, through cuts to DLA and Housing Benefit, and moving people from Incapacity Benefit onto Jobseekers’ Allowance and the work related group of ESA. These are often people who have been out of work for many years, and desperately need to increase their confidence and skills if they are to stand a chance. The DWP is not providing this support, and these cuts mean that, for many, the voluntary sector will no longer provide it either.
In addition, these organisations provide an essential lifeline for socially isolated, vulnerable people. They can be quite literally lifesaving. Leaving funding concerns aside, our society cannot abandon the people who are least able to fight for their services.