Opposition is mounting from both local residents and anti-austerity groups against the “devastating” £85 million worth of budget cuts planned by Lewisham Council
Among the cuts being planned are significant changes to key services for children and the disabled, which were criticised at Wednesday night’s meeting of the council cabinet. A major protest is now planned for the council budget meeting, due to be held on February 25.
The south-east London branch of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, Lewisham branch of the Trade Unios and Socialist Coalition and the Lewisham Green Party will protest at the meeting. Their aim is to “reverse this massive attack on the working people of the borough.”
A statement on the SELPA website said: “These cuts affect the lives of the vast majority of people in Lewisham including young people and children, whose work prospects are significantly reduced by education cuts, disabled and elderly people whose lives will be made miserable as essential care is cut.”
Among the changes to disability services is a reduction in transport services for the disabled and opening up three of its four disability centres to other users.
At a meeting of the council’s cabinet on Wednesday, Nick O’Shea, who works for Lewisham Mencap, described the proposal as an “asphyxiation of care centres” which made him ‘frightened’ for the future of the provision for the disabled.
Under the plans, those who are now at the day centres would receive a personal budget and guidance to buy services through ‘other providers’ at one of the existing day centres or in a new ‘’configuration of community hubs.” The ‘disability specific’ centre would function as a day centre, but it will not be able to take on everyone from all the existing day centres.
He asked the Mayor, Sir Steve Bullock, and the cabinet members: “Would you be okay with this if it was your son or daughter? I know I would not.”
Helen Bashford, from Sydenham, told the meeting that her disabled daughter had been happily using one of the day centres for several years: “it is not about buildings, it’s about people.”
Among the other changes are plans to remove 13 childrens early learning centres from Ofsted registration, which would mean that centres will not be required to meet certain standards, such as opening five days a week and providing a range of specified services. According to the proposals, this will allow children centres to operate ‘more flexibly’ and at a ‘lower cost’.
Parents have protested against the changes, arguing that the proposals will sentence vital children centres to a ‘slow death’ and an online petition has been launched.
The petition, started by Cathy Dearson, states: “If a children’s centre is deregistered, then health visitors, social services and GPs can no longer refer vulnerable families to it for support. If families cannot be referred, the centre cannot meet its targets and loses it purpose for being. De-registration is effectively closure by stealth.”
Sir Steve Bullock, the Mayor of Lewisham, said in statement: “When we were elected last May we were realistic about the challenge that we would face, and none of the choices that we have to make are made lightly. We see the evidence daily of what the current government’s policies on welfare, on housing and wages have done to many of our fellow citizens.”
“We will endeavour to make the inevitable cuts as fairly as possible but we will also tell this government, and the next one, that we need fairness from them too in the way that Lewisham and its residents are treated in the future.”
Additional reporting by Grace Darlington and Marthe Holkestad