‘No one has been targeted as much’: How latest cuts are hurting disabled people
PUBLISHED: 12:10 18 October 2019 | UPDATED: 12:56 18 October 2019
Hundreds of the most vulnerable people in Norfolk have been hit by a big rise in disabled care charges. Tom Bristow speaks to those who fear it will mean they lose their home and future.
It has been years since Sharon* bought her children presents.
At birthdays and Christmases her grandchildren make do with second hand gifts she finds on eBay.
But the 64-year old fears even that may have to stop after being hit with a 400pc increase in her care charges by Norfolk County Council.
She heats one room in her house near Bungay and as she can no longer afford to buy wool for knitting has resorted to unwinding old jumpers.
The grandmother used to run a mail-order business employing six people.
But in 2008 she was diagnosed with ME and could no longer work.
Since then she has lived off benefits and savings, but along with 2,400 other disabled people in Norfolk is now having to pay a lot more to the county council for her carers.
Earlier this year councillors voted to increase care charges for disabled people, aged between 18 and 64, by reducing the amount they can receive each week, called the minimum income guarantee, to around £150.
The council's own impact assessment warned the change would bring financial hardship to disabled people and increase isolation and stress.
But the move saves £4m from the strapped adult social care budget and, the council said, brings it in line with other local authorities.
Council leader Andrew Proctor said they had avoided the rise for as long as they could.
"I have met some of the families affected and explained that I am keen to work with them to lobby the Government for a sustainable, long-term solution to adult social care funding," he said.
But Kimberly Myhill, from disability charity Equal Lives, said disabled people and their families were losing faith in the council.
"People are fearful of future budgets," she said. "No other group have been targeted as much by cuts."
Sharon's care bill rose from £52 a month to £72 at the start of the year.
She then received a letter in May stating it would increase to £42 a week but no more.
But four months later she was told it would rise again to £68 a week.
"I don't often cry but I did when I got that letter," she said. "I fear I could now lose my house.
"It's the embarrassment of having to ask my children for money for food whenever they come to stay for a few days.
"It's the fear of not having enough money to fix my dodgy gas boiler, not having the money to buy the probiotics I need to take daily, to keep my immune system functioning, not having money for vets bills.
-'Council needs to look at itself'
Sheila*, 21, a student living in supported accommodation in Norwich has seen her care bill almost double to £97 a week from £59.
Next year she said she had been told it will go up to more than £130.
"I've done my calculations and I will be in debt by £7 every week," she said. "I already spend as little as I can."
She gets 19 hours care a week for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a rare inherited conditions that affects connective tissue.
Youngest people living away from families are the hardest hit by the changes.
To help, the council sent out leaflets with money saving tips but disabled people said that had only rubbed salt in the wounds.
The leaflet advised them to eat large breakfasts so they wouldn't need to spend so much money on lunch.
It also suggested selling DVDs and turning off lights.
"I have a visual impairment so need the lights on," Sheila said. "I think the council needs to look at itself. When we left County Hall for a meeting (about this) all the lights were left on and the councillors have given themselves an increase in allowances."
Shane Landamore, meanwhile, was told in July his care bill will more than double.
The 29-year old will contribute £97 a week, up from £38.
He lives in supported accommodation in Norwich and has a chromosome disorder meaning he has never been able to hold down work.
His mum Anne said: "Shane will only be able to afford to access the community very occasionally so will be spending more time at home.
"My worry is that he will become bored and his behaviour will deteriorate and his supported living placement will be at risk of breaking down."
-Tough decisions ahead
Those living by themselves are the most affected, but families who care for disabled relatives are also now being charged for previously free care.
Teresa Hewitt, 53, looks after her sister Susan, 51, from Horning, who has severe learning difficulties.
"The impact these cuts have will mean Susan will have to choose whether she remains at day service four days per week or whether she gives up day service and keeps her benefits," she said.
"The day services are a vital aspect of her quality of life. It also gives me free time during the day which at this moment is my only respite."
Meanwhile, Sara Heath's contributions have gone from nothing to £31 a week and next year they will double, dramatically changing her life, according to her mum Marilyn.
The 23-year old from Horstead has severe learning difficulties.
"I have been helping her out but I cannot make up this amount," said Mrs Heath, 67.
"The increase will mean we will be more isolated. I will have to make decisions between her meeting her friends and eating and heating."
Nick Taylor's son Charlie, who has Down's Syndrome, used to pay nothing for care but that will go up to around £50 a week next year. It will mean the 29-year old from Buxton will never be able to afford to live a semi-independent life, his dad said.
"We have had to restrict the amount he goes out," Mr Taylor said. "Like everybody else he enjoys meeting people and he doesn't understand why he can not do things now."
-'We avoided this for as long as we could'
Norwich South MP Clive Lewis organised a meeting on Wednesday in Westminster to lobby the care minister for an increase to the minimum income guarantee.
"We are really concerned that the county council and government are blaming each other for this," he said.
"These are some of the most vulnerable people in our county and you can't help but think that because of their condition the council thought it would be easy to pass these cuts, but they have picked the wrong people."
But council leader Andrew Proctor said: "We held the minimum income guarantee above the Government's rate for as long as we could but, faced with continued pressures on adult social care budgets, we've had to move to the Government level used by most other county councils.
"We have launched a money support service to help people with other benefits and their personal finances."
-Contact the council's money support service on 01603 223 392 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
-* Names have been changed
-Follow the latest from our investigations unit on Facebook
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Eastern Daily Press. Click the link in the orange box below for details.