Campaigners have called for an inquiry into the death of a disabled woman whose direct payments had been withdrawn by her local council.
Two campaigning organisations held a vigil last weekend attended by more than 30 campaigners, friends and neighbours of Jennyfer Spencer.
They claim the wheelchair-user was one of many disabled and older people who have been found ineligible for support by Camden council, have had support packages cut or withdrawn, or “have been driven away by charges they can’t afford”.
They say many disabled people are now finding themselves “isolated and suffering routine neglect”.
But the council has defended its actions, insisting that Spencer had a “long history of refusing to engage with services”, while her direct payments were cancelled because the money was just being left in her bank account.
The council said care workers who were sent to Spencer’s flat after the direct payments were stopped were turned away, and she failed to turn up for meetings to discuss her care and housing needs.
The council said its savings threshold for providing free home care is higher than most London councils, at £30,750, while it provides care for those with “substantial” or “critical” needs.
The campaign for an inquiry into Jennyfer Spencer’s death is being led by the Campaign Against Care Charges (Camden) and the national disabled women’s charity WinVisible, with support from the CARAF Centre and the Black Women’s Rape Action Project.
They say Spencer spent seven years living in an inaccessible flat in Gospel Oak, north London and ended up “entirely dependent” on her neighbours, after Camden council stopped her direct payments in 2008.
The body of the former primary school teacher was found on 1 March, along with a letter addressed to a local paper detailing her battle with the council.
Although the death is “not being treated as suspicious”, a police spokeswoman said a financial investigation was underway to “see whether any offences have been committed”. She said there was likely to be an inquest into the death.
Spencer had apparently been trying to persuade the council to move her from a fifth-floor flat – which didn’t even have a ramp at the front door – to a ground-floor flat for seven years.
Claire Glasman, a volunteer with WinVisible, said campaigners were “angry” because her death seemed to have been preventable.
She said: “It is just such a waste. Apparently she was a lovely person. She fought right up until the end.”
Jim Wintour, Camden’s director of housing and adult social care, said the council had been “greatly saddened” by Spencer’s death.
He said: “When a vulnerable member of society dies suddenly it is right that questions are asked and we will want to learn from this tragedy.”
But he said the council repeatedly tried to persuade Spencer to accept help. He added: “We care about our vulnerable residents and want to provide appropriate support, but we have to balance this with their own freedom and right to make choices.”
A Camden council spokeswoman said Spencer turned down five offers of ground-floor flats and “did not request a ramp, presumably because she had requested a transfer to a ground floor council flat”, and also did not turn up for two appointments with the council’s mental health service for an assessment.
The council spokeswoman added: “She wasn’t considered to have such mental health problems that we could have had her sectioned and forced care upon her.”
Friends have said Spencer’s continuing health problems could have made it difficult for her to attend council meetings.
The council spokeswoman added: “No independent inquiry is planned at present although we will of course look for any lessons that can be learned as a result of this case.”
7 April 2010