Edinburgh Budget: Disabled fall victim to cuts

Taxi Cards, will be affected in plans to cut spending next year. Picture: Joseph Eida/AFP/Getty Images
Taxi Cards, will be affected in plans to cut spending next year. Picture: Joseph Eida/AFP/Getty Images
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HUNDREDS of thousands of pounds are set to be cut from services to disabled people as council chiefs plan their spending for next year.

Today campaigners said the proposed budget savings could have devastating consequences and warned politicians not to use vulnerable people as an easy target for economies.

The city council needs to plug a funding gap of £67 million by 2017-18 and is currently consulting on potential cuts in services and increased charges.

Budget breakdown

• Cut specialist day care support for families with vulnerable children, targeting provision at those most at risk.

• Reduce the amount the councils pays to voluntary organisations for mental health and addiction services.

• More sharing of night-time support for people with severe disabilities or mental health issues.

• Fewer staff in day services for disabled people, meaning some lose one-to-one care.

• Remove the £800,000 cost of the Taxi Card by switching the scheme to the council’s taxi contract and bringing in an admin fee.

• Cut the homelessness bed and breakfast budget by ten per cent.

• Reorganise hostel provision with possible reduction in number of bed spaces.

One of the biggest proposed savings is in the Taxi Card service, which currently pays the first £3 of taxi journeys for people who have difficulty transporting themselves across the city because of medical or mobility issues, up to a maximum of 104 trips per year.

The council wants to remove the cost of this subsidy by including the Taxi Card in its general taxi contract so those using the scheme would get a discount direct from the taxi firm. The council would also introduce a membership fee of £20 a year to cover admin costs.

David Griffiths, chief executive of Capital-based disability charity Ecas, said it was not clear what level of discount people would get under the new proposals or which taxis they would be allowed to use.

He said: “If it’s just black cabs that’s quite difficult for some people who find private hire cars are better for their backs. You probably won’t be able to hail a cab, you would have to book it in advance and the flexibility to use a local firm you have some understanding with could be at risk.

“The Taxi Card is free and they administer it at the moment. There should be less admin under the new system, yet they want to bring in a fee and raise £120,000. A cynic could say that sounds like a quick money-spinner paid for by disabled people.”

Other targets for proposed cuts include day care services offering specialist support for families with vulnerable children, which were halved this year and now face a further reduction to save £50,000. The council says the service will be targeted at those most at risk.

The council also plans to cut £235,000 from night-time support for people with severe disabilities or mental health issues. This could include more sharing of night-time support by several clients and increased use of “telecare”. The council said: “There should be no adverse impacts on service users although it is appreciated changes to current and sometimes long-standing night-time staffing arrangements may cause some degree of anxiety.”

And another £200,000 could be saved by reducing staff ratios, so some people with multiple disabilities or challenging behaviour would lose their current one-to-one care and staff would instead have to look after two or three people at a time.

The council also proposes saving £250,000 over three years by redesigning the contracts for mental health and addiction services, reducing the amount the councils pays to voluntary organisations. It plans to save £400,000 by continuing to work with voluntary organisations to develop more “cost-effective” supported accommodation for adults with learning disabilities.

Rosemary McLoughlin, assistant director with Voice of Carers Across Lothian (Vocal), said: “Cuts to services such as day care provision and overnight care – which provide essential breaks from caring – without offering 
alternative solutions can have a devastating impact on families at the sharpest end of caring.

“When money is short, the council needs to focus on the investments with the biggest return. Vocal strongly urges against cuts to services which provide valuable short breaks for unpaid family carers with long-term, intensive caring responsibilities.”

She said nearly 22,000 Edinburgh carers now provided 20 hours or more of care per week.

“The council and NHS cannot do without their help. Cuts to carers’ support would be short-sighted as carers provide huge social returns on investment.

“Unpaid family carers contribute an estimated £771.1m to the social care economy in Edinburgh alone – that is the cost of replacement care if they could not sustain their caring role.

“This is evidence that further investment in carer support will bring reliable returns for councils, NHS, people with support needs and all our communities. If councils want to prevent people requiring expensive care services, they must invest more in carer support.”

Florence Garabedian, chief executive of Lothian Centre for Inclusive Living, said: “In a tough financial environment disabled people, people with long-term conditions and older people are the first ones to feel the impact on their quality of life and on their ability to remain active in their community.

“Targeting cuts to the very services that support them to live independently, and to remain members of their communities, would just lead to more exclusion and marginalisation, and increase the gap between those who have and who have not.”

Charity Capability Scotland warned disabled people should not be made an easy target for cuts.

A spokeswoman said: “Capability Scotland understands the financial pressures faced by all local authorities. However, it is important that disabled people, many of whom are already bearing the brunt of welfare reform, are not further disadvantaged by cuts to services.”

The council is also forecasting a £350,000 saving in 
housing benefits through “effective process management”.

It is planning to save £130,000 through a ten per cent cut in the bed and breakfast budget for homeless people. The council says this will ­include stricter implementation of the homelessness assessment criteria and enforcement of the rule that clients who turn down a “reasonable offer” no longer have to be housed by the council. At the same time, the council intends to find another £175,000 by “redesigning” its hostel provision.

Green councillor Steve Burgess said: “At a time when there is a dramatic shortage of affordable homes and when welfare cuts still loom over the most disadvantaged residents, the risk is that cuts to homelessness budgets will simply add insult to injury.”

‘We have to use our resources wisely’

By Cammy Day

Edinburgh is a fantastic place to live and it’s our job to help make sure people in the city are able to live in quality, affordable housing in a safe environment.

We have to make sure that as a council our budget constraints don’t stall progress in developing modern, energy-efficient homes for tenants, at costs they can afford. This means that we have to use our resources wisely to upgrade our current housing stock and build new homes to the highest standard. Over the last year I am proud of our achievements in doing this and, together with our partners, we provided almost 1300 new affordable homes, trebling the number of new affordable homes being built in the city.

New homes have been let to tenants in Craigmillar and West Pilton, while one of Scotland’s largest housing-led regeneration projects is currently under way in Pennywell, and set to deliver more than 700 homes in the north of Edinburgh. This work is delivering long-lasting benefits to local communities and we are looking to expand on this to regenerate and enhance other parts of city.

However, building better communities isn’t just about new housing, it is about making sure people feel safe in their homes and in their communities. That is why the work of our Community Safety teams of officers and wardens are so important in tackling issues such as anti-social behaviour, which can have a huge impact locally, on an individual, and on the environment.

We have also committed £1 million to begin to upgrade our CCTV systems across Edinburgh and are working with partners to create an integrated CCTV network for the city. We are lucky that we live in a city that was voted the UK’s safest this year, and that residents tell us they mostly feel safe after dark, but we’ll keep listening together with partners so that the people who live, work and visit here are kept safe.

There is much to do to meet the needs of a growing population and the increasing demands that this places on the council, so when it comes to allocating next year’s budget we must get it right. We have to build on successful projects and fund new ones to make sure our residents live in safe, thriving communities across the Capital. That is why we are urging people to play their part in our budget decisions, so please have a look at www.edinburgh.gov.uk/budget and let us know your priorities. Also, you can ask myself and Councillor Henderson any health, social care and housing questions during a live Q&A session on Twitter between 3pm and 4pm today – #edinbudget.

• Cammy Day is housing leader at Edinburgh City Council

‘Making sure people are well cared for is a top priority for us’

By Ricky Henderson

Making sure that people living in Edinburgh are well cared for physically, socially and mentally is a top priority for the council, and our annual budget is based on this simple foundation.

Of course, demographics are changing and this creates added pressures when we decide how and where to spend and, also, to save. We have an ageing population, with around the same number of pensioners as young people. While the fact that we are living longer is welcome, this presents added challenges, such as an increase in age-related health conditions.

Despite budget pressures, we continue to invest in vital services, which help to protect the vulnerable people who need them the most, such as those with disabilities, or addiction issues. This year we invested additional resources of £5.1 million in new services for older people and adults with learning and physical disabilities. We also invested an extra £8.7m in preventative services.

This year saw the Scotland-wide introduction of Self-Directed Support, an innovative way of giving people the power to choose how they want their care to be delivered. Looking after carers is also important, and we continue to give one-off payments of £250 each year. Our Volunteernet scheme gives fantastic support to carers through a bank of volunteers.

We are working hard with partners to provide residential care for older people and people with disabilities, and this week we announced plans to build a new £9m care home. Despite budget pressures, we are actively recruiting care staff at the moment. Allowing people to live as independently and safely as possible in their own home or in their local community will remain a priority next year.

Council campaigns supporting mental health in 2014 have included Dementia Awareness, Autism Edinburgh and Speak Up Speak Out. We work closely with agencies such as NHS Lothian and third sector organisations to invest in wellbeing, and on joint schemes such as the Edinburgh Alcohol and Drugs Partnership, which helps us to address the reasons for substance misuse, as well as tackling the effects of it.

You can play your part in shaping the council’s budget for 2014-15 by giving your views through our online planner. We’re really interested to hear how you think that we can continue to invest in health and social care, despite increasing budget pressures.

• Ricky Henderson is health and social care leader at the city council