“Counter intuitive” cuts are “perverse”

Campaigners for the elderly and Norfolk MPs yesterday united to criticise proposed council cuts which they said were 'counter-intuitive' and 'perverse'.

Age UK Norwich and Age UK Norfolk went to Westminster to meet with North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, Norwich South's Simon Wright and Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North.

The charities used the opportunity to put across some of their fears about the major threats facing the county's rapidly-growing ageing community.

They revolve around proposed spending cuts put forward by the county council as it looks at how to bridge a �155m funding shortfall.

As part of its 'Big Conversation' the council has suggested a number of savings including a �6m a year cut on spending on prevention services for older people.

Phil Wells, chief executive for Age UK Norwich, called the idea 'extraordinary'. He added: 'It's counter-intuitive. It's only going to increase costs in the long run. It looks like a very wrong-headed policy.'

Mr Lamb, a former health spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said proposals like that led him to share Age UK's fears that older people could be hit hardest by attempts to plug the spending deficit.

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He said: 'I really struggle with that because everything to me points to investing more in prevention. When things go wrong it's not only disruptive to the individual but an enormous cost to the NHS. It's perverse.'

Proposals to alter the criteria for adult social care to 'critical only' also came up at the meeting, which was also attended by Age UK Norfolk's chief executive Hilary MacDonald.

It means adults with a 'substantial' need of care will no long qualify for support.

Mr Wells said communities could be left to pick up the pieces. 'Of course many of those people in substantial need will quite rapidly be in critical need if they are not getting the help the need.'

The charity representatives and MPs also agreed the prospect of reduced funding for the voluntary sector was a real concern.

Mr Lamb said it was an issue he had already raised with councils at the Norfolk Summit held last month.

Last night, Norfolk County Council said, while it understood the concerns, the authority was facing an 'unprecedented' challenge to balance its books which would lead to difficult choices.

David Harwood, member for adult and community services, said as demand for social care looked set to rise, the council was facing a 28pc cut in its government grant.

He said: 'I wish there were easy answers - but there aren't. That is why we have published some proposals for people to consider - we have also published proposals to save many millions by stream-lining the council and cutting costs. But what we don't save in one area, we will have to save in another - it's as simple as that.

'We are listening and won't decide until we have head what people say and considered all views in the round.'

Mr Lamb said he and his fellow MPs would be meeting with the county council today and would continue to encourage members to 'radically think about how they reduce administrative costs' to protect front line services.

Before discussions of cuts took over, yesterday's meeting with the MPs was called to garner support for a forthcoming Age UK campaign, set to be launched in Norfolk next February.

Campaign for Later Life will last for three years and aims to raise awareness of the services available to older people and how people can support their local communities.

Hilary MacDonald, Chief Executive of Age UK Norfolk, said Age UK Norfolk and Age UK Norwich wanted to do all they could to ensure the availability of care for older people in the future.