The very real human cost of cuts to Norfolk disabled people’s care
- Credit: Keith Morris, courtesy of www.networknorfolk.co.uk
A formal complaint has been issued against Norfolk County Council amid claims they have been unfairly cutting the money received by disabled people as part of their personal budgets (PB). Today, more people come forward to speak to David Powles about the impact this has had on their lives.
Eddie Pleban, from Colman Road, Norwich, is in a wheelchair after a stroke in 2011. He has seen his PB fall from £6,000 in 2011 to £2,144 now.
'Having this money aided my recovery and independence and made a huge difference to my physical, emotional and psychological well-being, and I continued to make good progress.
'In March 2013 I requested respite for two days, four times a year – contingency in case my wife could not care for me, finance for a personal assistant to take me swimming weekly and transport me on longer journeys, and gym membership to aid my recovery.
'I had already made the decision not to apply for certain items from the application in March 2012 as I felt it unfair to make unreasonable request of a local authority where I knew budgets were under stress.
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'I was granted a budget of around £4,000. I have never wanted to claim more than I felt was necessary for my recovery and wellbeing.
'But, as a consequence I have been denied opportunities which would have aided my recovery and rebuilt my self-esteem and worth, as well as allowing me to be more independent and feel less of a burden on family and society in general.
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'I received a cheque from NCC for £2144.98.'
His wife and main carer, Jeannie said: 'The whole experience was devastating.
'From the moment it happened, the family and I have had to advocate, argue and fight for every service, appliance and benefit. At a time when we all should have been concentrating on supporting Eddie and dealing with our own feelings of shock and grief, we have had to constantly deal with a system that seems inadequate and incompetent.
'Dealing with my feelings has not caused me the distress, frustration and utter fatigue that dealing with agencies continues to do.'
Tracey Matthewson, 39, from Norwich, had funds to employ a personal assistant to support with personal care and supported activities as she has dystonia, essential tremor and fybromyalgia.
Before Christmas she was told she no longer met the criteria for future funding. She said a social worker who she had not met before had paid her a visit and asked various questions.
She said some had been hard to answer because her condition changed day-to-day.
'My partner is 10 years older than me and has arthritis in both hips.
'He is responsible for school runs and my care most days and nights, apart from the break with home help,' she said.
'I also found great benefits from swim and massage and my helper would take me out either to activities, from mind body soul fairs and hospital appointments that clashed with school runs, to a theatre show – my only outings really.
'I got a phone call informing me I had lost every bit of budget – at no point because of not suiting the needs, just the word cuts again.
'I begged, explaining I don't wish my family to do my personal care. She told me to ask friends, neighbours or Facebook for help.
'My children are seven, 13 and my eldest is 19 and in a full-time apprenticeship, hardly fair they should have to do my personal care.
'I have been killing myself trying to do housework and get upstairs where my helper would.
'I have a toilet side rail and shower chair, that's it.
'You can imagine the strain on one person doing everything for me and supervising me eating all day every day. Now none of us have a life.
'I've only been out to the doctors and hospital since.
'I've lost the one therapy that helped my dystonia, the massage. I've lost everything.
'I'm a burden on my poor family. I now stay in PJs and just mope about. I feel so down and in pain.
'My illnesses will not go or improve and I've lost my choice to control my life and have a teeny bit of independence.
'I know these cuts are happening to people much worse off than me, who can't voice their opinions.
'We need to get this stopped before lives are lost and the weak get weaker.'
Do you have an issue for the Investgations Unit? Contact David Powles on email@example.com
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Personal budgets (PB) were introduced in 2008 as a way of giving people with a disability, age-related condition or chronic illness more choice over how their needs are met.
There have been concerns that Norfolk County Council, as it battles to balance the books and cope with massive cut-backs, has been reducing the spend on some people's care and in some cases withdrawing support altogether.
In 2013/14, 4,192 people successfully applied for a PB, but for this year up to December that figure was just 2,400. The number of people refused a PB was 773 in 2013/14, 1,269 in 2014/15 and 633 up to December 2015/16.
A formal complaint has been made by campaign group Equal Lives to the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which claims the council is failing to meet its statutory duties under the Care Act.
Mark Harrison, CEO of Equal Lives, described it as 'an assault on disabled people' and has been calling on councillors to refuse to push through a cuts programme until they are satisfied people can be treated properly. He said today: 'Our complaint is two-fold. There is not enough money being handed out nationally and in Norfolk adult social care is being disproportionately funded.'
Norfolk County Council denies it is failing to adhere to the Care Act. It says it does not have a list of activities it will no longer fund but that PBs must be spent on things that meet eligible social care needs. The CQC is investigating.
TWO SOCIAL WORKERS GIVE THEIR VIEWS
'The awful thing now is there is just no money. It really is appalling. We are told to find more cost-effective solutions and improve client choice but that is impossible.
'I believe the Reimagining Norfolk Project is all about getting the community to find ways of helping people that we would once have helped, because there is no money. It is almost impossible for social work values to be uppermost in people's minds when, rather than advocating for clients, the main job is to ration services. Social work values can no longer be uppermost in social worker's minds. We can no longer meet people's needs adequately and that's the bottom line.'
'We don't talk about 'needs' anymore, instead we are told it is about 'wants' so 'Mrs Jones needs to eat regularly throughout the day' becomes something like 'Mrs Jones would like access to regular food and drink throughout the day'.
'Couching a need as a want means we don't necessarily have a duty to meet it. This is in line with a push
to promote 'independence' by providing less long-term (council funded) care and support services and instead encouraging independence by either redirecting people 'signposting' to community services, providing small bits of mobility equipment, or providing short-term reablement care.'
Norfolk County Council has cut its budget by 15pc in the past few years, despite demand for services rising steeply in the same time.
These are the claims in a new report, titled 'Have the cuts unfairly hit adult social care?', written by former University of East Anglia economist Dr Chris Edwards.
Dr Edwards claims that between 2010-11 and 2015-16, the council has cut its real-term adult social care expenditure by over 15 per cent. This figure was calculated using the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
He claims the net expenditure in 2010-11 was £288 million in today's prices but in 2015-16 it was £242 million, a £46 million reduction.
He added: 'This cut has taken place over five years when the growth in the over-65 population in Norfolk has risen by just under 4pc a year. Given this, it is perhaps not surprising that the requests for adult social care in the County has grown at 15 per cent a year.'
Equal Lives is calling for County Hall to halt its plans to take millions more out of its adult social care budget when it meets on Monday.