Warning over cuts to care of Norfolk elderly

Campaigners fear death rates among the elderly will increase this winter because of spending cuts.

The concerns have been raised after Age UK director Michelle Mitchell yesterday warned elderly care will be plunged into 'absolute crisis' by the government decreasing the cash available to council social care budgets.

She added this could end up costing more in the long run, with thousands of older people ending up in hospital rather than receiving care at home.

And Lady Joyce Hopwood, chairman of the Norfolk Older People's Strategic Partnership Board, said more vulnerable and frail people were missing out on the help they needed.

She added that this was because councils and charitable groups were attempting to manage decreasing budgets and increasing workloads.

Lady Hopwood, who is also chairman of the Norwich Older People's Forum, said: 'With the speed that these cuts are being made, the time for really useful planning is not available and things are being done hastily. That's not right. These are really important issues that need to be properly thought through, very carefully planned and organised. I am sure council officers are doing the best they can but they can't be doing their real best when working to such pressures.

'You might really wonder how they imagine people will be taken care of properly. Last year I predicted that the cuts in social care would increase the death rates and I fear this winter we may well see the effect of that. You can't cut services at the same time as the numbers needing the services are expanding - not if you have any conscience or sense.'

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But David Harwood, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for adult and community services, said: 'I would say we are making every effort to reduce the effects that the government cuts might have on local people. All the funding we have available will be used for that purpose. If you are looking at the cost of care, it will be increased by �9m over the next 12 months. In Norfolk we are always looking at ways of improving performance.'

Norfolk's population is predicted to increase from 865,000 in 2010 to 954,000 in 2020. The Office of National Statistics believes the population will break the one million barrier by 2030.

The proportion of pensioners in this figure is expected to increase significantly as people live longer, increasing the pressure on already stretched council care budgets. This has led to local authorities, including Norfolk County Council, examining how it can best provide services with the money they have available.

The county council is proposing to cut �11m from preventative care services in the next two years. But the authority says it is spending �27m extra on care budgets in the next three years.

Charities are also competing for a smaller number of grants, while the elderly are being given more choice on how to spend their care money. The government wants control of these allowances to transfer from councils to people by April 2013.

Phil Wells, Age UK Norwich chief executive, said it would be wrong to say there was a national crisis but the lack of cash was causing 'small crises' to emerge in certain areas.

He said: 'A lack of time, care, quality control and motivation all come about as a result of a thousand small cuts and a thousand small ways we are saying as a country caring for the elderly is not as important as other things.'

Barbara D'Arts, chairman of the trustees at Dereham Meeting Point, said the day centre's membership was increasing although it was difficult for anyone to be certain of the future financial situation.

She said: 'We consider ourselves very fortunate that we can break even because of our service level agreement. If that was to be withdrawn by the council we would not be able to maintain the service we have now.

'We know we have got the agreement until September. What happens after we really have no idea and I think in fairness to social services and Norfolk County Council neither do they.'

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