Campaigners have asked a local authority why it has taken the “inexcusable” step of increasing care charges for disabled people in the middle of a pandemic.
Greenwich council was warned last year that planned increases to the contributions disabled service-users have to make towards council-funded care would lead some to quit their jobs or stop their volunteering work, and push many into poverty.
The council decided in January to ignore these concerns and push ahead with increased charges, although the planned implementation in April was postponed because of the COVID-19 crisis.
But the council has now “reviewed” the situation and introduced the changes this month, despite a steep rise in COVID-19 infections across London.
Among the changes, home care charges will rise, recipients of the higher rate of disability benefits will contribute more towards their care, and a cap on charges for home care will be removed.
In an open letter to the council, disabled activists have described the move as “inexcusable” and say that, “in light of the awful consequences” of COVID-19, it is “unfair and unjust”.
They warn that it will “inevitably lead to more unnecessary pain and misery for many Greenwich residents” and point to the higher costs that disabled people have faced during the pandemic, particularly for food.
They have already been contacted by one Greenwich resident who has decided she has no choice but to stop all her care this month, while another was sent home from hospital and had to stop the care package she was assessed as needing after receiving an unexpected and “hefty” bill from the council.
The letter has been sent by disabled people’s organisations including Greenwich Disabled People Against Cuts, Inclusion London, WinVisible, Metro GAD and BME Volunteers.
They say in the letter: “The coronavirus pandemic has hit disabled people hard and also exposed and amplified the long-standing structural inequalities and discrimination that Deaf and Disabled people have experienced.”
Some of them, they say, “will face the unenviable choice of having to decide between heating the home and putting food on the table”.
They have also raised concerns that the council has been carrying out “cold call” care reviews, without giving the disabled service-user any notice and so depriving them of the chance to arrange advocacy and support “and therefore undermining choice, control and independent living”.
Greenwich council defended its actions.
Cllr Miranda Williams, its cabinet member for adult social care and health, said: “Our decision to review the current charges for adult social care services was not taken lightly.
“We put off introducing any changes to our current policy for many years – all the while the population has been growing, and the cost of care has continued to rise – particularly for those coming out of hospital or living with complex needs.
“Many other councils have already increased the amount they are charging – something we resisted for years.
“Since 2010, our funding has reduced by a staggering £1,400 per household, totalling some £125 million, largely as a result of funding that the government has taken away from us.
“Unfortunately, we urgently need to address this growing gap in funds to safeguard our services for the future and continue to provide quality care to people who need our support the most.”
She said that disabled people who have had to spend extra money on food deliveries or similar costs during the pandemic were entitled to reductions in their care charges under “disability-related expenditure”.
And she said the pandemic had “placed a further significant strain on already stretched council finances”, although the council had provided several free support services from the beginning of the outbreak, including food and prescription deliveries, befriending and phone support.
Cllr Williams added: “During the height of the pandemic, reviews of care were suspended – with the exception of urgent cases.
“Our disabled residents were contacted for their overdue reviews by telephone initially, to ensure safe distance was maintained, but this practise was altered as call receivers advised us that this made them uncomfortable.
“We now make sure any review telephone calls take place at a mutually agreed time.”
Picture: Anne Novis, chair of Inclusion London, holding a consultation document on the charging proposals, and campaigner and Greenwich resident Eleanor Lisney, at a protest against the council’s plans
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