Budget cuts are not just about money

Tuesday Club at St Augustine's Church Hall, Grove Park. Pic: Marthe Holkestad

Tuesday Club at St Augustine’s Church Hall, Grove Park. Pic: Marthe Holkestad

The uncertain future of her disabled daughter’s daily care is now an extra weight on the shoulders of Helen Bashford from Sydenham, as proposed changes to Lewisham’s adult social care leaves her wondering what will happen next.

“Are they asking me to leave my job?” she asks.

Bashford fears she may have to resign from her full time job if her 37-year-old daughter, Kelly, is no longer eligible for five-days a week care at Nabarhood, her local day centre. For the local mother, leaving her daughter alone is not an option.

Safe and stable routines for both Bashford and her daughter will be disrupted if Lewisham Council’s planned changes to adult social care are implemented. The £1.3m cost of the cuts to disabled care, part of the council’s need to cut £85m from its budget over the next three years, are substantial and far reaching.

The council is proposing that the borough’s four existing day centres – Ladywell, Leemore, Nabarhood and Mulberry, would lose their exclusive status as centres for disabled people and instead become “community hubs” shared with other providers and services. Only Ladywell would remain as a “disability specific” centre, however there is no guarantee that everyone requiring full time care will get it.

Those who do not get a place at Ladywell, will receive a personal budget as well as guidance on how to buy services, such as employment training, advice for parents and opportunities to socialise, through the other providers.

Even though the future community hubs will provide services similar to the current day centres, it is not a given that everyone can afford to attend as often as they do today. For Bashford, this is not good enough. Her message is crystal clear: “Day centres are more than buildings, they represent friendship, continuity and stability.”

These changes will have an impact on vulnerable people whose everyday life is already complicated enough. What might seem like a small disruption to most people, could be increasingly more stressful for those with disabilities, with a continued routine vitally important to many currently receiving day care. According to Bashford, the council does not understand the full consequences of their actions on the lives of disabled.

At the moment, life is full of uncertainty for Bashford and her daughter, as the future of their daily routine hangs in the balance. All they know is that they are happy with things as they are. “What I like about the day centre is that I always know where my daughter is when I’m at work”, Bashford explains.

Lewisham Council have also suggested changes to door-to-door transport, which will not only affect users of the day centres, but those attending evening clubs provided by Lewisham Mencap. Nick O’Shea, an economist, volunteers for Mencap and shares Bashford’s concerns on the changes to transport. They are both worried about the usage of services with untrained personnel. O’Shea explains, “the coach drivers are highly trained and our experience of taxi drivers is that they are not.”

Bashford agrees, “Those who already travel on the door-to-door transport are there because they are not independent travellers. Most of them need to be escorted as they get of the bus, otherwise there is great danger of them being lost or running off.”

Lewisham Council have suggested that door-to-door transport will not be available for those going to evening activities and the amount of services during the day will be cut, only operating on shared routes for “older people and those with complex disabilities needs.” Those who do not qualify would need to apply for a personal budget and organise their own transport.

O’Shea is worried that these changes will mean many will not be able to attend the Mencap evening clubs.“For 82 people, the Door-to-Door service is the only way of getting to the club at the moment.  There will be alternatives for some, but not for others.  In this case, those people will not have evening activities – the socialising which you and I take for granted.”

If less people are able to make the journey to the clubs, they have to close, he says. Disabled people will lose safe spaces where they can be themselves.

Held every week at St. Augustine’s Church Hall in Grove Park, the Tuesday club is one of the evening clubs under threat. As you approach the church, you can hear the music blasting from the speakers, enjoyed by many on the dance floor inside.

Hayley-Ann Cummings, 22, is a volunteer alongside with O’Shea. She said that if people can’t find alternative transport “they will lose an important place for being social with their friends.”

“We don’t charge our members at the door or for food, but we have a tea bar where they can buy cheap snacks. That money is used to buy the food we serve and pay the rent,” O’Shea added. In addition to dancing under the flickering lights from the disco ball, members can play board games, draw or just relax with their friends.

O’Shea can’t think of a more expensive way to save money. “These proposals don’t save that much money, but affect half the people who receive a service from the council. These cuts will affect a lot of people whose services are very inexpensive.”

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