This is an abandonment of a crucial right that disabled people have fought for and won: to be socially included rather than ghettoised or institutionalised. Furthermore, if plans are approved, instructing social workers and social care workers to implement such proposals may be asking them to ignore their Code of Practice; the General Social Care Council has made it the principal responsibility of all social care workers to protect the rights of disabled people and other social care service users.
Under their proposals, Worcestershire County Council identifies five future ‘choices’ for service users with reduced council funding:
Choice 1: to top up and meet the cost of desired care from alternative sources such as personal or family savings. This is an option only available to a comparatively wealthy people. Disabled people and other social care service users are highly unlikely to have such savings when facing huge restrictions and reductions in benefits, while concurrently experiencing entrenched discrimination in the job market. This is at a time of exceptionally high unemployment and when Remploy factories providing (albeit imperfect) employment to disabled people are being closed.
Choice 2: take a direct payment to arrange more flexible care arrangements. This is an example of the good intentions of personalisation being used as a flimsy veil for cuts. The cost of buying services individually in the market means that costs are highly likely to be greater than those purchased by councils via economies of scale; the possibility for people to arrange more effective care costing less than their present packages, is slim.
Choice 3: change the type or volume of care currently received. This is straightforward – for many people this will mean less care or support or poorer quality provision.
Choice 4: access alternative low level community support in addition to council funded care. Like other ‘big society’ rhetoric, this is a dishonest suggestion as funding for the voluntary sector who might provide such support is being decimated or their energies are being consumed by shifting to bureaucratic, divisive tendering processes for short term grants. The general public may be struggling to make ends meet for themselves, rather than possessing the spare time to engage in civic activity or neighbourly support.
Choice 5: is for people to receive their care in a residential or nursing home. This is in stark contrast to the familiar language of aspiration used by local authorities to describe adult social care of ‘choice’, ‘control’ and ‘participation’ – where are these concepts in such a policy? It disregards Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People which states that a) people are not obligated to live in a particular arrangement and b) that segregation should be avoided. Aside from the right to live in the community, service users will be aware of the recent reports such as last year’s investigation into the Castlebeck-owned Winterbourne View care home and understandably be concerned of the treatment they may receive in residential homes, or be anxious about the minimal staffing and support in such institutions because of efficiencies driven by profit.
SWAN believes there is no possible justification for this kind of social care policy which is prepared to sacrifice quality of life and people’s rights at the altar of ‘current financial challenges’. It is entirely possible for high quality, comprehensive social care to be funded free at the point of use and paid for out of general taxation – we are one of the richest countries in the world and one which established our entire welfare state under similarly challenging economic circumstances. It is a matter of priority and will.
SWAN notes that Jack Ashley, the Labour Peer who campaigned for the rights of disabled people died recently. Among the parliamentary tributes to him were those of Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling, the two Ministers for Work and Pensions. Their fond comments were staggering in the context of their welfare reforms which are eroding the support for work and independent living from many disabled people and other social care users. The logic of austerity underpinning the thinking of these politicians is same justification being used by the Tory-led administration of Worcestershire County Council to vanish people’s right to independent living. SWAN wonders how such politicians reacted to Jack Ashley’s independent living bill, which proposed to sweep away the ‘feed and clean’ culture – a culture to which Worcestershire now seem to be proposing that we return?
SWAN encourages social workers and social care workers in Worcestershire and across the UK to work with service user led organisations and disabled people’s groups to oppose these plans as inimical to a social care based on human rights. This is one part of wider picture of social care austerity; SWAN supports the call for a cumulative impact assessment on disabled people and social care service users of all the Coalition Government’s relevant social policy, as suggested by the Common’s Joint Committee on Human Rights.
One cannot justify diminishing rights or unacceptable living standards because of financial cost. The true ‘cost’ of making these cuts will be a human one.