Article published: Tuesday, May 14th 2013
Yet more adult social care cuts are on the way, with Manchester City Council refusing to rule out potential day care centre closures for people with learning and physical disabilities.
Three centres – Longsight’s Tabberner House, the Leaf Centre in Miles Platting and Chapman Place in Gorton – have already shut. Services in the three sites ended shortly before Christmas, with users relocated into the Heathfield Centre in Newton Heath.
Now, families fear the closure of yet more centres, including the Northfield Centre in New Moston. Frustrated carers and users are demanding answers from the council over the future of the centres in meetings with officials, but have so far only been told that no decision has yet been made.
Formal proposals regarding the city’s seven remaining centres, and a consultation with users of the service, are expected in the near future. It is understood that the council argues that many centres are underutilised and is considering consolidating service provision into fewer buildings.
Over 400 people across the city use the service, which provide activities and support at seven centres across the city for people to live independently.
The centres cater for adults with varying levels of disability and the elderly, offering services such as speech therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy. They also offer access to activities including college courses, arts and crafts, day trips, hydrotherapy and a memories group according to Manchester Learning Disability Partnership [MDLP]’s website.
Carer and Friends of Northfield chair Robert Churchill said yet more closures would have a “devastating” impact and leave many “like a prisoner in their own home” if closures occur.
“It’s going to be devastation to a lot of parents and carers who are over 60 and in need of care themselves”, he pointed out. “A lot of parents would have to give up jobs. They need the centres to look after kids while they’re working.”
No official decision has yet been made and the council is considering proposals in light of its latest round of £80m cuts over the next two years as a result of the government’s local funding settlement.
Executive Member for Adults, Health and Wellbeing Councillor Glynn Evans said, “We will be taking very difficult decisions as a result of a challenging financial settlement.
“We have been looking at all our services including day centres and are currently talking to customers, carers, relatives and partners about our proposals for redesigning day centre provision across the city. No decisions have been made at this time.”
The council says closure of the three centres before Christmas was due to the buildings being in a poor state compared to Heathfield, which is undergoing refurbishment.
In July 2010 each day centre included in a survey conducted by MDLP reported registration numbers over and above the available funded places. Fears have been raised that moving yet more users into centres such as Heathfield from sites such as Northfield could have harmful effects.
Anne, a carer of a disabled person who uses one of the centres, warned that “these are humans not cattle; you cannot shove all these people together without something giving or getting hurt”. She argued that the “vulnerability of service users” could increase as “cheaper staff, agencies or apprentices will take over from highly qualified trained staff who will be let go of.”
The council states that the number of users has reduced by half in recent years, shrinking from 873 in 2009/10 to just 450 in 2012/13. Some centres have closed in intervening years, however. The introduction of “individual budgets”, where people receive money to purchase care themselves rather than automatically receiving public services, has also led to fewer people using the centres as they purchase care elsewhere.
Paul, another carer whose relative is a service user, echoed concerns that the danger of abuse could be increased if centres were closed. For Paul the centres were “a safety net” from abuse, especially as parents and grew older and less able to take on caring responsibilities.
“You’ve got a lot of these people now at 40 or 50 which means their parents are in their 70s. And I’m scared”, he said, of “putting people” into large private centres if space could not be found at existing centres. “You only need to look down south”, he added, referring to a recent abuse scandal in Bristol. “Winterbourne, that’s what happened. It’s not a one-off that.”
The potential closures come as the council rolls out its “redefined social care offer” to adults with learning disabilities in a bid to save £3.5m. The council’s revised care offer aims to reduce spending increases on targeted services, promote “self care and independence” and promote “the coordination of family, community, voluntary and commercial resources” in care commissioning.
Some carers have raised concerns that the council’s own reassessments of care needs are reducing the entitlement of many people to care at the centres from five or three days a week to just one.
Paul said that “people are scared of having an assessment, which shouldn’t be the case. Assessments should be based on their needs, not for what the council want it to be.” Crucial among these needs he said was “social interaction”, arguing that the centres were vital for helping vulnerable people avoid isolation.
The council says that each person is assessed according to their individual care needs.
Paul added that the changes come at a time when people with disabilities and their families face cuts from all sides.
“We’ve also got to sort out the Independent Living Fund finishing, we’ve got the bedroom tax, we’ve got the council tax, and then we’ve got Personal Independent Payments, and we’ve got universal credit”, he said. “And it’s all being aimed at us.”
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