To be updated.
To Lancashire, now, where disabled service users ready themselves for the realities of Tory Lancashire county council’s horrendous care service cuts.
In February, Lancashire agreed service cuts of £179m over three years, even though the council has about £110m in reserves and plans to pour £294m into road works and transport schemes in the next four years.
This council has rounded on its most vulnerable citizens for service cuts. Children’s respite carehomes will be shut. Eligibility criteria for care for disabled adults will be tightened (nearly 4000 service users will be reviewed) and care charges introduced.
Charges for some services will be introduced and the council plans to cut fees paid to some residential and nursing providers (who, naturally, will very likely look to recoup their losses from service users. I wonder if the good burghers of Lancashire know that their much-celebrated zero council tax increase is being paid for by people with disabilities).
Disability Equality Northwest is seeking a judicial review of the council’s consultation processes. Fair play to them, too – I’ve spoken to service users who say they weren’t aware for some time that consultation about their services was officially underway. Others say that the council tried to keep them out of the “public” consultation meetings that the council held in late January and early February.
If reviews go ahead and the courts find against Lancashire, they could force the council to re-run consultation exercises, which would buy service users time to lobby politicians and think up other protest and service alternatives. Judicial reviews are hardly cure-alls, but they can slow a council’s cuts ideologists down.
The rest is a shambles. Parents keep up the fight for respite centres. Nobody seems to know how many council staff will lose their jobs. Figures of up to 6000 are doing the rounds in the press – numbers the council neither confirms, nor denies. Meanwhile, parents and families of severely disabled people linger in a – well, soulless limbo.
The first thing Ned Ludd tells me when we meet is that he’s tired. I see it right away, then: red, bleary eyes in his otherwise appealing face and skin that is about the same shade as his grey hair and beard. He looks exhausted.
He was up all night looking after his severely disabled adult son. His son has cerebral palsy and a range of health problems – some remain undiagnosed. His son can’t move independently, or speak. He is fed through a stoma and tube. He suffers regularly from fits (about ten a day) and breathing problems and chest infections. The chest infections frighten Ludd, because they’re potential killers. They have nearly killed his son several times.
Anyway – the tiredness. Last night, Ludd’s son was supposed to go to a carehome after spending the day with his parents, but he developed a stomach virus and was too sick to be moved when it came time to leave. “Very suddenly, he spiked an incredibly high temperature. When we lifted him and turned him over, he retched, so he couldn’t be transported.” So, he stayed with his parents and Ludd put in the all-night “waking watch” shift – moving his son, watching him and keeping his airways clear.
Ludd and his wife do this a lot. They are the fallback option if his son can’t be moved, or when nurses ring in sick and can’t cover his care. “[In the past], we’ve [had to] come back from holiday to [provide care cover]… or you’re just lying in bed trying to get a bit of a lie-in and you get the phone call…” Ludd thinks it could be worse, though – he says that people with disabilities really suffer when “there’s nobody to do the fallback. They go into hospital and they don’t come out. They don’t survive.” It will be important to see how this pans out as Lancashire’s cuts become real.
Ludd worries as he waits to find out what services his son will end up with. His complex care package (nurses for feeding, bathing, medicating and keeping his airways clear, his carehome service, transport to and from his home to his daycentre and so on) has been under review for six months.
“They keep telling me that his care package is expensive. I know that it is expensive. It’s expensive because my son needs a very high level of care.” His son will definitely lose his mobility allowance – that crucial payment for transport that gives people with severe disabilities people the option of adapting vehicles, or paying for transport with wheelchairs and carers. Ludd is also concerned about the voluntary groups that provide his son’s round-the-clock nursing care. These groups are facing grants cuts, which Ludd says must ultimately have an impact on staff numbers and availability.
“If there is no service, the only way he can do things and have some sort of life is if we do it. I don’t begrudge him that, but we’re getting older (Ludd is in his 60s). My wife has just had an operation and has another lined up for her foot. [It’s a pity] because it was getting to the point where our son was getting an independent life of his own.”
As far as protesting is concerned, and trying to freeze the council in its tracks: Ludd says he tried to attend consultation meetings in February and “I’ve emailed my councillor, my son’s councillor, the [council’s new] disability champion councillor, the cabinet member for adult services…..I’ve had the standard letter. The trouble is that round here, a lot of the councillors are Conservative and they won’t even talk to you.” He says that “there are lots of little [protest] groups suddenly springing up – but we’re not natural protestors. I haven’t been on a demo since the Vietnam demos in the 60s. We’ve been on one and we’ll have to go on others because we have got to stop this happening.” Later, downcast, he says that the council’s changes won’t be stopped. Like a lot of people, he holds both views.
More to come.