Budget cuts could leave most vulnerable at risk

10:10am Sunday 1st December 2013

By Tarik Al Rasheed

SOCIAL services in Worcestershire are among the best performing in the country, new figures have revealed.

But the new data released by the Department of Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) has been met with a blunt warning that savage council cuts mean that may not be the case for much longer.

Worcestershire County Council wants to cut £32 million from its adult services budget – prompting fears that it is preparing to take a “meat cleaver” to its support for the county’s most vulnerable.

The new HSCIC website launched on Monday, Nov-ember 11, lets people compare social services in different parts of the country.

And it makes healthy reading for services in Worcestershire, with the county ranked ahead of the national and West Midlands averages, as well as “comparable” councils, in key categories including social care-related quality of life and client and carer satisfaction.

But Peter Pinfield, chairman of watchdog Health-watch Worcestershire, said any satisfaction with the figures is tempered by fear of what could be to come.

“The story that we have heard from the council could undermine that particular standing very quickly within the next 12 months,” he said. “While people appreciate that we have to make some changes and adaptations, they are concerned that we will be taking a real step back and from being a high-performing service we will soon be nearer the bottom.

“If you put in more than £30 million of cuts then you will have an impact on the quality of your services, no doubt.

“And that impact is about more than figures on a piece of paper, it is about people’s day-to-day living and the quality of life for the most vulnerable in our society.”

Carers and representatives from organisations supporting the vulnerable queued up to speak at last week’s county council cabinet meeting when a consultation on the proposed changes – called Future Lives – was agreed.

Among those urging the council to reconsider its ideas was Jonathan Sutton, chief executive of St Paul’s Hostel, who said: “Don’t reach for the meat cleaver when a scalpel will suffice.”

Among the cost-saving proposals are the closure of two day centres for people with learning disabilities and for at-home care visits to be scaled down and replaced with assistive technology.

The proposed cutbacks come as the council battles budget pressures and a need to save £98 million by 2017.

But the council has given strong reassurances about its future performance.

A spokesman said: “We take performance very seriously. Focusing on priority areas and quality of care plays a pivotal role, which underpins the work we do.

“The Future Lives programme aims to promote health and independence, allow greater choice and control, and maximise the quality of services.

“The council will continue to invest in prevention and early help.

“t will need to prioritise those at greatest risk of requiring adult social care and those services where there is best evidence that they reduce the need for adult social care.”

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