A cost-cutting council is set to introduce new policies that will force disabled people with high-cost support packages out of their own homes and into residential and nursing institutions.
Labour-run Southampton city council wants to cut its adult social care budget by £1.5 million in 2016-17.
As part of those cuts, it wants to increase the use of telecare – such as personal alarms and sensors – so that it can reduce the need for visits from care workers and routine “wellbeing” checks, while also increasing care charges.
But it also plans to review the personal budgets of every disabled person with a package of more than £500 a week, and consider if it would be cheaper to fund them for extra care housing, or nursing or residential care.
A new council consultation – which ends on 31 January, or 14 January via an online survey – points out that 212 people in the city have care packages of more than £500 per week, which is “much higher” than the standard rate for residential care of £369 per week.
If the proposals go ahead, the council would consider if extra care housing, residential or nursing care would be a more “cost effective” way to meet these individuals’ needs.
The consultation document says: “If this is the case, we would typically set the personal budget at a level which would fund the identified extra care housing scheme, or appropriate residential or nursing placement.
“The service user can then choose to either enter residential or nursing care, or to use their personal budget towards the cost of receiving care and support at home or in an alternative placement.”
Ian Loynes (pictured), chief executive of Spectrum Centre for Independent Living, a user-led organisation which campaigns and provides services in Southampton, said the proposals were “deeply concerning” and “pretty bleak”.
He said: “We need to fight this assault on people’s liberty and independence.
“It’s pretty bleak already, but any prospect of moving people living independently in the community into residential care – it is impossible to see how that would be effectively meeting their needs.”
Loynes said that disabled people in Southampton would be unlikely to have any extra resources they could use to top-up the council funding because the council’s charging policy meant that it already takes 100 per cent of their disposable income.
He added: “Southampton have a very poor record of consulting and changing anything.
“Their results of consultation normally change nothing in the way of policy.”
Meanwhile, local media have reported that the council plans to build a £12 million “super care home”, with accommodation for up to 95 disabled people.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC)*, said: “This is particularly worrying because Southampton have spent so much money building their new ‘super care home’ and it is also against all the principles of independent living to impose an illegal ceiling on the amount of funding people are allowed to have.
“We are obviously concerned that if Southampton are able to do this then other local authorities will do the same.”
Cllr David Shields, the council’s cabinet member for health and adult social care, said: “It is very important to remember that no decision on this issue has been made.
“The council is engaged in an open and meaningful consultation exercise and consequently welcomes all views on the proposal to inform its decision.”
But a council spokesman said it was faced with “difficult decisions” in meeting a budget shortfall of £39 million next year and £90 million by 2020-21, while the measure would affect less than five per cent of adults receiving council-funded care, and the council would “consider individual circumstances on a case by case basis”.
He added: “The council has to balance an individual’s preferences with its requirement to use its fixed budget to support everyone in Southampton who has eligible adult social care needs and we consider the proposed approach to be more equitable.”
He denied that the policy would breach article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which says governments should ensure that disabled people have “the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others and are not obliged to live in a particular living arrangement”.
And he said that the development described by local media as a “super care home” would in fact provide “extra care housing” and so was not a care or residential home, and would allow individuals “the independence of living in their own flat, but with the reassurance of on-site support and 24 hour care”.
He said: “This is consistent with the council’s policy of exploring whether an individual’s needs can be met in appropriate extra care housing before residential or nursing care is considered.”
*Anyone from Southampton who thinks they might be affected by the changes and would like to take action to prevent the policy being carried out can email DPAC at: firstname.lastname@example.org