Fears Norfolk social care cuts will pile pressure on unpaid carers

Norfolk County Council. County Hall. Photo : Steve Adams

Norfolk County Council. County Hall. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Archant

Norfolk's unpaid carers could be forced to carry the burden for the impact of millions of pounds of council cuts, it has been claimed.

And other charities condemned a decision by Norfolk County Council to put forward more than £11m of cuts to services for vulnerable people as short-sighted.

County Hall's adult social care committee yesterday recommended a string of savings ahead of next month's full council budget.

Among proposed cuts are withdrawal of more than £5m over two years from housing support, which charities say could increase homelessness and heap pressure on hospitals and mental health services.

And with spending on floating housing support – such as wardens –under threat, Norfolk Carers Support warned the 'high-risk strategy' could leave unpaid carers having to plug the gap.

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Tim Allard, executive manager for Norfolk Carers Support, said around 100,000 people in Norfolk look after somebody.

He said: 'This decision is a high- risk strategy. It will put greater pressures on the system and on individuals and families across Norfolk.

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'Any high-risk approach needs to be supported with consideration of the consequences.

'These cuts have a knock-on effect: The more funding and services that are cut for vulnerable people, the more friends, families and communities have to take on the care, without which these individuals can become even more vulnerable.

'Unpaid carers themselves also need support to maintain their own health and wellbeing. I make a plea for a whole system approach to making the necessary cuts. I hope also that the people and organisations that this impacts on, are viewed as part of the solution and that their views count too.'

While the council is looking to put an extra £25m into adult social care next year, the budget, which will need to be agreed by full council on February 20, contains £11m worth of cuts.

Organisations such as the YMCA, Norwich's St Martin's Housing Trust and The Benjamin Foundation, which the council commissions services from, had warned cuts could lead to increased homelessness and put pressure on other services, such as hospitals and mental health services.

Graham Creelman, chairman of the Norfolk Older People's Strategic Partnership, had said it would be a 'tragedy' if services which help independent living suffered.

Labour's Sue Whitaker, who had said it would be 'foolish and reckless' to ignore the concerns of the organisations, had asked the committee to abandon those proposals.

But chairman Bill Borrett, who said 3pc of a proposed 4.8pc council tax increase would go to adult care, said Mrs Whitaker's proposal had no costed alternative savings.

The committee was tied at 8-8, with one abstention over Mrs Whitaker's proposal to ditch those cuts. But it was rejected on Mr Borrett's casting vote.

The committee then agreed to put forward the overall budget, described as a 'sensible' one by Conservative Joe Mooney.

James Bullion, director of adult social care at Norfolk County Council, acknowledged there was a 'trade off' between spending on low level services and using money to target specific services.

He said the council was working with partners to agree spending priorities.

But Liberal Democrat Eric Seward said: 'You are simply shunting costs to other public agencies.'

Afterwards, Mr Borrett said: 'Given the fact the council has decided to spend more money here, over other departments, and that we are taking full council tax increase, shows how strongly members of the council feel really needy and vulnerable must to be protected.

'But we have to look for efficiencies. It's not our money we're spending. It's the public's and we need to spend it as efficiently as possible.'

How will the cuts affect charities?

Charities and organisations which help to provide support for young people have said Norfolk County Council's proposed cuts were short-sighted.

The Norwich-based Benjamin Foundation provides accommodation for nearly 80 young people who live in six supported accommodation centres across Norfolk.

The charity's chief executive Tony Ing, said: 'It is very disappointing. But, as we've said all the way along, we know the council has got to find savings. It is about making sure that the funding which is ultimately approved is given to best effect.

'We need to make sure we keep working closely with the council to get the best outcomes for vulnerable people across the county, whichever age group they fall in.

'We will keep pushing the points we have made. Our argument remains the same. It doesn't change. It's a short-term decision which will have long- term implications. There will be higher costs further down the line and at some point that will have to be picked up.

'The risks are that we do see more instances of higher levels of homelessness, that we do see increasing levels of mental health and that has implications for other public sector services.'

The proposals still have to be agreed by councillors when they meet next month to decide Norfolk County Council's budget for the next year.

But Mr Ing said: 'I think to be honest, given the decision, I'd be very surprised if there was a subsequent decision. Things could change, but I'd be surprised if they do.'

Tim Sweeting, chief executive of YMCA Norfolk, said it was 'massively disappointing'. While he said it was too early to judge what the impact on the YMCA would be, he feared the charity's housing units for 16 to 17-year-olds could be in danger.

He said: 'James Bullion [adult social care director] says the proposals won't have an impact on the numbers of looked after children, but we do get a lot of referrals from them for those units. At any one time, we have 10 to 15 in those units.

'The council might think there is some short-term gain, but there will be long-term pain. There is going to be a massive impact on vulnerable people and we already have a very difficult situation around homelessness.'

Mr Sweeting criticised the council's approach to finding savings. He said: 'We should have been sitting down to talk about ways we could all work to find innovative solutions.'

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