‘Shocking’ report suggests number of blind service-users is plunging to zero


theweeksubThe economic crisis has seen a sharp increase in the rate of decline in the number of blind and partially-sighted people receiving support from their local authorities, according to new figures.

The figures are contained in a “shocking” new report from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), which predicts that in less than 10 years no blind or partially-sighted people will receive any form of care or support from their local council.

Facing Blindness Alone shows that between 2005 and 2013, the number of blind and partially-sighted people in England receiving any council support plunged from 55,875 to 31,740, a drop of 43 per cent.

The fall was sharper than the drop in the number of people with physical impairments receiving council support (30 per cent).

But an examination of the figures also shows that this decline accelerated as the UK fell into recession and austerity.

The numbers receiving support fell by 2.6 per cent from 2005-06 to 2006-07, then 5.9 per cent the next year, 4.9 per cent the following year, but then 8.6 per cent between 2008-09 and 2009-10, 8.5 per cent between 2009-10 and 2010-11, 11.2 per cent the following year, and 12 per cent between 2011-12 and 2012-13.

The report concludes: “People who have recently lost their sight are being left to fend for themselves – to sink or swim – and all too often they are sinking into depression and isolation.”

One service-user, Mohammed, said: “When my social worker made positive comments about what I appeared able to do for myself, I think the council thought, ‘He doesn’t need any support.’ You are penalised for wanting to show you can maintain some independence.”

Another, Samantha, said: “Being visually-impaired is not regarded as a life-threatening condition.

“I had a problem with cleaning my home… it should be sensory support who ideally provides this but they feel ‘it’s not life and death’ whether you get help with your cleaning.”

And Terri said: “The social bit of social care can be ignored – you are always told you ‘can just do shopping online’. Strictly speaking, that’s true, you can, but you can get so depressed – independence is not just about shopping online.”

RNIB is calling on the government to make changes to its care bill, due to enter its report stage in the Lords next month.

It wants all newly blind and partially-sighted people to be offered “rehabilitation” – structured support aimed at maximising a person’s independence and quality of life – after their first diagnosis, and an end to the many councils that limit this rehabilitation to just six weeks.

It also wants assessments for longer-term care to “properly recognise the barriers blind and partially-sighted people face in remaining independent”.

Meanwhile, new figures from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services suggest there has been further progress in rolling out personal budgets to disabled adults.

The survey showed that 76 per cent of all eligible adults in England received a personal budget in 2012-13, either as direct payments or as a council-managed budget.

And more than a quarter of the 126 local authorities that responded to the survey said that more than 90 per cent of all eligible adults in their area received personalised services and support.

But there were still 11 councils which reported fewer than half of all eligible adults receiving a personal budget.

12 September 2013