DPO warns of possible closure after ‘disgraceful’ loss of funding


theweeksubA hugely successful user-led organisation could be forced to close its doors for good in October – with the possible loss of 50 jobs – after two public bodies imposed a drastic cut in its funding.

An estimated 150 people protested this week at the offices of Sandwell council about the cuts imposed on Ideal for All by the local authority and the newly-formed Sandwell and West Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Group (SWBCCG).

They also handed in a petition, signed by more than 6,000 people, calling on the council to “stop, consult, listen”.

For the past 17 years, the council and SWBCCG’s predecessors had split Ideal for All’s core funding between them, with the disabled people’s organisation (DPO) levering in other resources on the back of that money.

But SWBCCG has now decided to withdraw all its funding and provide the services itself, while the council is set to cut its funding for service provision by more than half from 1 October.

Although the council has mentioned several different figures for the new contract, the one Ideal for All (IFA) believes it is most likely to offer is £225,000 a year, which includes a £120,000 ring-fenced sum for the upkeep of its independent living centre.

This would leave just £105,000 to provide services for disabled people.

This compares with previous funding of £568,000 – with about £285,000 from the council – and about £450,000 of that for service provision*.

Last year, IFA received more than 33,000 calls and visits asking for help, information and for small pieces of independent living equipment. It also runs pain management sessions and provides training, employment support, social events, peer support and assessments.

IFA is also tendering to keep its direct payments support contract with the council, but even if it wins that, funding is likely to be cut from about £197,000 to a maximum of £60,000.

Doreen Veale, IFA’s vice-chair, said that “pouncing on vulnerable and disabled people’s funding” was a “disgraceful act” by the council and SWBCCG.

Naeem Arif, executive director of Ideal for All – which has about 15 disabled members of staff – said there was a “significant threat” to the organisation’s future because funding for service provision was being cut by more than 75 per cent.

He said: “This is a nightmare for us. It will have a catastrophic impact on disabled people.”

He suggested the cuts could leave Ideal for All with just four members of staff, and being forced to close its doors for good.

He said: “That probably will be the case. There is no point in carrying on the struggle and not delivering the service. How can we tell 30,000-plus disabled people, ‘sorry, we don’t have the capacity to look after you.’?”

And he said closing IFA would be likely to have a significant negative impact on local NHS services, while SWBCCG had failed to consult over its decision, or to produce an assessment of the impact of the funding cut on disabled people.

Sue Bott, director of policy at Disability Rights UK, which has been supporting Ideal for All – one of its members – in its funding struggle, said: “Ideal for All in Sandwell is one of the country’s finest examples of what can be achieved when disabled people are supported to lead their organisations and empowered to decide how they want to live their lives.”

Bott, who handed the petition to the council this week, called on councillors and SWBCCG to review their funding cuts in case their decisions become “a national case study”.

Darren Cooper, leader of Sandwell council, said: “The money we’re offering for the contract is less than it was in previous years due to cuts to the council’s budget.”

He said the council was “trying to offer the best deal we can, given the multi-million pounds cuts in recent years to the cash we get from the government”.

He added: “We’ve listened to what people have had to say about disability services in Sandwell and we‘ll continue talking to Ideal for All and service-users while we get the terms of a new contract finalised.”

A SWBCCG spokeswoman said in a statement that it had developed “internal services” that would deliver the services previously provided by Ideal for All.

She said: “We want patients, carers and the public to contact us directly. Our newly-appointed customer service officers will capture all concerns and issues, and also help guide people to the most appropriate place.

“We will continue to ensure disabled people who receive NHS-funded care have access to health and wellbeing services, but we want to empower them to make choices that reflect their needs and aspirations.

“We hope this will enable people to decide for themselves how, where and what support they receive.”

*These numbers are rough estimates

1 August 2013