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Campaigners launch formal complaint against Norfolk County Council over claims disabled people are losing vital support

PUBLISHED: 08:39 05 February 2016 | UPDATED: 13:41 05 February 2016

Mark Harrison, chairman of disability charity Equal Lives. Photo : Steve Adams

Mark Harrison, chairman of disability charity Equal Lives. Photo : Steve Adams

Copyright Archant Norfolk 2015

A campaign group representing disabled people in Norfolk has submitted a formal complaint over claims an increasing number of disabled and vulnerable people have seen the support they receive cut by Norfolk County Council.

Personal budget case studies. Pictured: Martin Symons. Picture: SuppliedPersonal budget case studies. Pictured: Martin Symons. Picture: Supplied

Equal Lives has submitted the complaint to the Care Quality Commission (CQC) urging them to investigate what it claims are systematic failures by those at County Hall and a disregard for its statutory duties under the Care Act.

The row centres upon the use of personal budgets, a scheme introduced in 2008 and used by more than 4,000 people with a disability, age related condition or chronic illness, with the aim of giving them more choice over how their needs are met.

It is claimed that as the council has carried out budget cuts, many disabled people in Norfolk have seen the amount of money they get to spend on care cut by up to 30% and in some cases support completely withdrawn, particularly that for well-being services.

Mark Harrison, CEO of Equal Lives, said: “This is an assault on disabled people and risks making the most vulnerable people isolated in their own homes and distanced from the community.”

Jonathan Moore, chair of Equal Lives, added “For Norfolk to remove these payments without offering alternatives was a reckless decision. This withdrawal of support mandated by law has left many disabled people living as prisoners in their own homes or leading second-class lives compared with the rest of society.”

Martin Symons, 49, from Poringland, suffers from scoliosis and Klippel-Feil syndrome.

He says his personal budget has been cut so he can no longer go to the gym, have monthly massages or take a yearly week-long holiday. He said having those scrapped has affected his health and meant more trips to hospital. He added: “I’m having more back spasms, because I can’t have the massages and I’m not having as much physical exercise as I should so I can see the curve in my spine more.

“I still have my 10 hours personal assistant support, but other than that I get nothing else. Part of my budget meant I could go away for a week and give my sister a break and my parents a break and myself a break. That’s gone too.”

The 2014 Care Act sets out the way in which local authorities should carry out needs assessments, determine who is eligible for support and their obligations.

Equal Lives’ letter to the CQC claims council cuts, particularly those in 2014/15, went too deep, leading to several breaches of the terms of the act. It urges the CQC to investigate as ‘systematic failures’ have been identified.

Equal Lives’ members and supporters will be protesting against further cuts outside County Hall from 8am on Monday, February 8.

We put the following questions to Norfolk County Council...

Q - We have several examples of people either having their Personal Budgets (PBs) reduced or scrapped completely. Has this been happening?

A - We aim to review personal budgets on an annual basis. The purpose of a review is to see whether a person’s social care needs that are identified during their original assessment have been met, and whether the goals that the person identified at that time have been achieved. Sometimes the person will still need the same personal budget to achieve these goals. At other times, different outcomes, or ways of achieving the same outcome might be identified. This could mean that the person might need a different service or might be able to access a service that is available in their own community to meet their eligible social care needs. Every person is different so how their needs are met will always vary.

Q - What budget is set aside for PBs in 2016/17 and how does this compare with 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2015/16?

A - 2015/16 - £227m

2014/15 - £220m

2013/14 - £215m

The County Council is in the process of setting the 2016/17 budget and so this is not yet available.

Please be aware that the problem with trying to compare the last few years is that funding has changed and a number of new burdens have been place on councils who provide adult social care. Demand for adult social services is increasing due to factors such as Norfolk’s ageing population.

Q - How many people successfully applied for a PB in 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2015/16?

A - 2013/14 - 4,192

2014/15 - 3,662

2015/16 (Up to December) - 2,400

Q - How many people were refused a Personal Budget in 2013/14, 2014/5 and 2015/16?

A - 2013/14 - 773

2014/15 - 1,269

2015/16 (Up to Dec) - 633

Q - Are there certain activities that have been taken off the list of what PBs can be used for?

A - No. There is no list of activities that cannot be funded by a personal budget. However, personal budgets must be spent on things that meet eligible social care needs and help the service user meet the outcomes or goals agreed in their care and support plans.

The Care Quality Commission did not return our calls.

•FOR A SPECIAL REPORT ON THIS ISSUE SEE TOMORROW’S PAPER.

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