The pandemic lockdowns have had a devastating effect on many people with disabilities, older people with dementia and their families. Constant uncertainty over when day services would reopen and the disruption to routines has had a huge impact on mental health. The impact of caring for relatives during the pandemic without respite should not be underestimated. Many people have been shielding loved ones and caring round the clock with much reduced support. I would like to pay tribute to them this evening. We need to give our carers a break.
That’s one reason why day services such as The Oakbridge centre and Windsor Day Centre in my ward, Clewer East are so valued. I’ve received many emails from residents who have been in turmoil following the draft budget announcements to close these centres. One of my residents said that the centre had given their relative with dementia a real boost- “the staff were so kind and caring. It’s also been a huge help to their family, knowing that she is safe and cared for.” Families like these are fearful that the services they enjoy and rely on will be lost with no clear replacement currently set out.
The lead member repeats the phrase ‘transformation is not a dirty word’ so often, I’m beginning to wonder if he’s trying to convince himself as well as residents. The parents of young adult in my ward, with severe learning disabilities don’t want trendy buzzwords. They fear a drastic reduction in the quality and quantity of provision. Whatever dazzling language is used to present it in consultation questionnaires, the stark reality is that the day services budget will be halved. Cllr Carroll’s reassurances tonight that the transition to new services will be carefully managed may be received with skeptism by families who just before finding out about the proposed closure, had been told in a leaflet ‘ the sky’s the limit- just say it, we’ll do it’.
I don’t disagree that there are wide-scale improvements to be made to some adult services in RBWM that residents have described as rigid, restricted and outdated. It is so important that people with learning disabilities are able to access personalised services supports them with socialising, health, for some, employment, and building links within their community. However, for some people, the best option may be a day centre experience, delivered by specialist staff in purposed designed buildings like the Oakbridge centre which was only revamped in 2016!
The Equality Impact Assessment acknowledges this need but that this could be delivered in various locations. At what further cost to the council? Will these smaller buildings have suitable facilities for personal hygiene and other technologies that might be needed to support people with severe learning disabilities? Families have also suggested to me that without suitable day services, they would be more likely to turn to to residential care, at greater cost to the council in the long run.
We are assured that the voluntary sector will step in to offer a different kind of day service. I sincerely hope that this will be possible but as we’re seeing in the budget this evening, charities and other community organisations are having their support removed. With traditional fundraising on hold for now, how many other community groups are at risk?
It is right that the council looks at the gaps in provision of supported living for young adults with disabilities in RBWM, but it is a huge blow to families that losing day centres seems to be the price that must be paid to provide this accommodation.
This isn’t a huge group of people but they are being asked to shoulder the biggest burden when according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, adults with learning disabilities are already in the most disadvantaged group. This is a budget that disproportionately affects the most vulnerable as children with special needs, people with disabilities and older people bear 90% of the cuts. No meaningful amendment would change that reality and — frankly it would be like putting lipstick on a pig. Therefore I am minded to vote against this budget.