A local authority is trying to push through millions of pounds of cuts to adult social care without allowing them to be properly considered by elected councillors, say disabled campaigners.
Labour-run Merton council has just completed a consultation exercise among residents of the south-west London borough, in which it warns that the adult social care budget faces cuts of more than £5 million – or about nine per cent – in 2016-17.
The planned savings include cuts of between five and 15 per cent to support packages, as well as cuts to respite care, meals-on-wheels and day centre staff.
In its formal response to the consultation process, user-led Merton Centre for Independent Living (CIL) said the cuts were “unreasonable” and “a false economy”, and would leave disabled and older people “isolated, trapped at home, stressed and barred from contributing to society”.
It added: “In response to the proposals, our members talked about having to take medication to cope with the changes, and their feelings of hopelessness as a result of continued cuts to services. Some spoke of giving up on life completely.”
Merton CIL’s chair, Roy Benjamin, has written an open letter to senior figures at the council, including council leader Stephen Alambritis, to express “deep concern” about the budget-setting process.
His letter points out that the business plan councillors will be asked to approve in March will only include details of £1.67 million of the planned £5.06 million cuts to adult social care in 2016-17.
This is because the remainder of the measures were approved in previous years as part of the council’s medium-term financial plans.
Lyla Adwan-Kamara, chief executive of Merton CIL, said she was “very concerned that cuts are being pushed through without appropriate scrutiny or discussion”.
She said it was “devastating” to hear her members talk about “the impact on their lives and whether their lives are worth living anymore”.
Only last month, the council settled a possible judicial review taken by David*, a former Independent Living Fund-user from Merton, partly by promising to carry out a full consultation on all of its cuts for 2016-17.
Now Merton CIL fears the council could already be breaching that agreement.
Louise Whitfield, from lawyers Deighton Pierce Glynn, who has been advising David and is continuing to provide advice on the consultation exercise, said: “I am concerned that the reality of the current consultation process does not give councillors a genuine opportunity to consider the full impact of all the proposed cuts in 2016-17 on disabled people.”
A council spokeswoman accepted that the business plan did not include full details of cuts agreed in previous years, but claimed that councillors considering the proposals would also have a report on the latest consultation – which does include that detail – to consider alongside the business plan.
Cllr Caroline Cooper-Marbiah, the council’s cabinet member for adult social care and health, said: “I would like to reassure CIL members that we will be considering the full £5 million in the proposed savings as part of balancing this year’s budget.
“We appreciate how important these decisions we are making are and will be looking in detail at the responses to our consultation, which covers all of the proposed savings.”
The proposed cuts will now be scrutinised at two cross-party committee meetings in January, before the council’s cabinet analyses them on 15 February, with final decisions to be made by the full council on 2 March.
*Not his real name