Disabled activists are hoping that a new campaigning coalition will make their county a focal point for highlighting the damage caused to disabled people by austerity-related cuts.
Disability groups in Derbyshire decided to launch the coalition after hearing last year that Derbyshire county council was planning to make an extra £157 million in cuts in the five years from 2013-14 to 2017-18, reducing its spending by a third.
Over this period, adult social care is facing cuts of up to £60 million to a budget currently set at £206 million a year, with cuts of £21.8 million due in 2015-16 alone.
Backing for the coalition has come from Derbyshire members of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), the Chesterfield-based disabled people’s organisation Disability Campaigners, Learning Disability Carers Community, the Chesterfield self-advocacy organisation Our Vision Our Future, Learning Disability Alliance England, the union Unite’s community membership arm, and Mencap’s north of England region.
Coalition organisers are hoping to sign up dozens more organisations.
Among the measures already announced, Derbyshire council has increased care charges, and tightened eligibility criteria for council-funded care from “higher moderate” to “substantial”; and a new £5-a-day transport charge is set to be introduced in April, for disabled people travelling to day centres and other activities.
A launch meeting for the coalition had been due to take place last week but was postponed because of heavy snow.
Gary Matthews*, a member of the Disability Campaigners steering group, said that many disabled people in the county were now having to choose between eating and heating, while the council’s own reports had warned that the cuts to social care would lead to deteriorating health, isolation and depression.
He said: “Nobody will have anybody to look after them. The council’s own reports say there will be more accidents at home, more health risks and people will be at risk in many different ways.
“People are in tears when they find out that the things they relied on for years are just being cut.
“That’s why we are fighting, because we are hearing all these personal stories. It’s just dreadful.”
The coalition – which has yet to be given a name – has launched a survey of disabled people and carers, as well as a petition, and has written an open letter to the council.
The letter calls on the council to review its policy on the “relentless cuts” it is making to the “funding, services and support that disabled people rely on to secure their rights and to live independent and dignified lives”.
And it suggests the council is failing to take seriously its statutory duty under the Equality Act to advance disabled people’s equality of opportunity.
The letter adds: “There can be no moral defence to what is happening and the council has failed to make any rational economic argument for these cuts.
“Current and future cuts ignore the cost benefit savings you make by investing in services that support people’s independence, health and happiness.”
Matthews, himself a DPAC member, said the cuts were sparked by huge reductions in the council’s government grant, but he pointed out that “the way that the council was initiating them was really targeting disabled people”.
He said: “We do hold the coalition ultimately responsible but we have been asking the Labour council to fight the cuts or at least defer them until after the general election, or use their reserves, but they have just ignored us on everything.”
He said the new coalition would lobby the council to reverse the cuts, but has not ruled out taking legal action, with the possibility of direct action if the council refuses to listen to their demands.
He said: “What we would like to do is make Derbyshire an example to the rest of the UK about what we can do and how we fight back.”
Paul Smith, the council’s cabinet member for adult social care, told Disability News Service in a statement: “We are aware of the potential implications of cuts to social care and don’t want to be in this position, but we simply don’t have a choice.
“Two thirds of our funding comes from the government but this is rapidly being cut and we’re facing our toughest year yet – with £97 less to spend on every Derbyshire resident in 2015-16.
“These cuts are coming when we’re facing even greater financial pressures including looking after an increasingly ageing population.
“We are doing all we can to mitigate the effects of the cuts where we can, including talking to providers of services for older and vulnerable people and disabled people to see how things could be done differently and more efficiently, and using public health money and calling on reserves where we can.
“To help cope with demographic pressures, £7million is being found on an on-going basis to boost the adult care budget and for 2015-16 there is also a one-off amount of £3million being funded from reserves.”
He said that all decisions on cuts were “underpinned by very detailed equality impact assessments”.
He added: “We acknowledge what the Learning Disability Carers Community and Disability Campaigners are saying and, while we have to make cuts, we are trying to do this as fairly as possible, and mitigating the effects where we can.
“The council is campaigning for fairer funding for Derbyshire and we’re putting our own house in order by scrutinising spending to make sure cash is used where it is needed the most.”
*To contact Gary Matthews, call 07710 430547 or email [email protected].
5 February 2015