Letter: Common sense prevailed on social care cuts

Date published: 26 January 2017

Dear Editor,

Many people will be delighted to read of Rochdale Council's Cabinet decision to remove the highly controversial Supported Living Group Homes proposals from the Council’s savings programme - 'Council's Supported Living Proposals removed from savings programme', Rochdale Online, 23 January 2017.

Special thanks should go to Rochdale Online for being the only media outlet to both cover and support the opposition to the consultation process with in depth analysis and coverage of the issue throughout.

This coverage was vital in bringing into the wider public domain Rochdale Council's flawed decision making, its consultation process and uniquely placed in Rochdale to reveal the otherwise concealed cracks, ugly facts, and hidden blemishes of proposal AC-2017-301 remodelling of Supported Living when held under the magnifying glass. Thereby allowing those many local people opposed to the Council's plans hold the decision makers to public account.

Far too many decisions are made in Rochdale behind closed doors without meaningful democratic accountability, justice or transparency from those unrepresentative, in some case unqualified, individuals, 'cabals' and private vested interests making the choices for the rest of us. That is why so many local people are quite rightly disillusioned with local politics and disengage from the process in disgust or despair.

The lesson that can be taken here is if local people moved to a sense of righteous anger by a sense of being ignored, continue to 'kick up enough of a stink', with a campaign independent of council influence and sympathetic media, in the shape of Rochdale Online, combined with dextrous use of social media and a willingness to 'speak truth to power',  united together in common interest in democracy and fair play, with a shared aim of collectively taking otherwise anonymous council decision makers to task, whilst being ultimately be prepared to protest on the streets whenever necessary, then that same council can be, and will be in the future, halted dead in its tracks from 'rubber stamping' highly unpopular decisions without opposition from the voters.

This is what democracy looks like, not the sham we all too often accept as democracy for no better reason than that is how it's always been done round here.

We need to keep clear in our minds that the driver for these cuts comes from the Westminster government, but by 'meekly 'tugging the forelock', and in effect 'doing the Tory's 'dirty work' for them, northern Labour councils risk being dammed by association in the minds of those members of the public on the receiving end of such ' fiscal collective punishment'.

I'd like to take some issue with the Director of Social Care who was reported as saying:

'The recent debate about reducing costs has become entangled with debate about reducing choice.'

If as she claims the Council consultation process: 'allowed some to misunderstand the proposals and unfortunately left some with the wrong idea', it surely begs the question of both the quality and inherent robustness (and not least the clarity) of the Council's consultation in the first place, does it not?

I think we all need to be quite clear that any ‘misunderstanding of the proposals' or 'wrong idea’ lays with the person or persons who drafted them in the first place.

The 70% who strongly disagreed with the proposals during the consultation period did not ' misunderstand' for a second. They understood only too well what the Council was about to try and force through despite opposition. Riding rough shod over the emotions, the very real worries and fears of service users, families and the human rights of some of the most vulnerable people in our community. Those responsible should be ashamed of themselves for their part in this debacle.

After all, during this consultation process it is deeply concerning that some legitimate opponents and campaigners saw legal action as their only viable alternative, and that a small core of independent community activists, including myself, would have been quite prepared to take non-violent direct action and would have risked peaceful arrest, with a registered independent legal observer present, if necessary, to oppose what transpired in the end to be wrongly feared 'forced' evictions of vulnerable people if needed. This kind of last resort citizen's action does not reflect well on the clarity, the calibre or the popularity of either the Council's consolation or the remodelling proposals in general.

Still, at the end of the day, it was a just and hugely popular decision that the proposal for Remodelling of the Supported Living Offer for people with Learning Disabilities was removed on Monday. Campaigners had urged it be 'thrown out' as not fit for the purpose since it was proposed by the Council months ago.

One can't help thinking this was all so unnecessary had people with learning disabilities been afforded the due human rights, respect, dignity and priority they deserved from the very beginning.

We are where we are, and in the end the carefully worded Rochdale Council statement conceded:

'2.2 It is recommended that Cabinet remove the proposal to make savings from the proposal AC-2017-301 remodelling of Supported Living Group Homes from the 2017/18 and 2018/19 savings programme thereby removing the proposal from the decision-making process to finalise a balanced budget at the Council meeting on 1 March 2017.'

It appears that sanity and human compassion has indeed prevailed in the end of this deeply controversial consultation process; that those many councillors who expressed privately to campaigners their deep personal misgivings about the original proposal have responded to the intensive public lobbying. Common sense appears, at first reading, to have finally prevailed this time around.

Speaking to some of the councillors entering the Town Hall at the last protest against these proposals it was abundantly clear to myself and others that they were not 'bad people' but rather good people being forced into making bad decisions. Some of them it was clear were deeply embarrassed by such proposals, felt totally unwilling to defend the indefensible and did so with increasingly heavy hearts.

I'm certain nobody with any ounce of integrity or self-respect goes into politics wanting to make cuts to vulnerable people in wheelchairs or to vote to take away their human rights and hard won liberty.

It seems reasonable also to assume that at the same time enlightened self-interest, mindful of future litigation, will have played no small part in arriving at this decision since the report to the Cabinet Member with responsibility for Social Care, discussed by the Cabinet points out:

'7. Legal Implications

7.1 At the time of writing the consultation process is subject to a judicial review claim on behalf of one individual. Within these judicial review proceedings, we have given a commitment to do the following:

(a) to remove the proposal from the decision-making process at budget setting Council on 1st March 2017.

(b) to engage further with stakeholders and service users to provide additional
information regarding Supported Living in Rochdale and how this would be used on a group and individual basis the advantages and disadvantages of all options under consideration.'

The Centre for Welfare Reform has been calling attention to the growing crisis in social care in the UK since 2011, pointing out:

'Funding for social care (for both adults and children) has never had a strong foundation and this has led to chronic funding problems for over 20 years. However, the policy of austerity has turned a long-term problem into a desperate crisis, one which has seen rising death rates for older people and fundamental breaches of basic human rights for hundreds of thousands.'

Those opposed to more austerity cuts to vital services, especially to Adult Social Care, need to maintain and intensify pressure on our council and our councillors. We cannot afford for a moment to let them squirm off the rusty hook some of them have clumsily spiked themselves on.

It does not sit well with the silent majority of Labour supporters that this Labour council may well go down in the history books as one of the most 'unpopular in local history', and that they will be remembered, for a very, very long time as the councillors that proposed cuts to Learning Disabilities of £1.4m from the budget, then voted in favour of increasing their own personal allowances by 34%/51% of £1.2m from the same budget. Not a good footnote in posterity's historical record for any councillor expecting to be re-elected we would all imagine.

Also, although the Council report document rightly makes mention of National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 and the Care Act, I notice there is very little, if any, mention of the Human Rights aspect of those individuals who may have been affected by such proposals and this glaring omission needs some considerable future scrutiny to ensure the same mistakes are not made once again by future council proposals.

Finally, that local families, campaigners and opponents saw the need to initiate legal action against our own democratically elected Labour council, with potential action through the courts of law in order to get the Council to respond to the clear democratic wishes of local people and do the right thing by vulnerable local people in the Borough, speaks volumes about this whole flawed consultation process.

The consultation fiasco does without doubt raise several legitimate and pressing questions of local democratic accountability, competence and transparency reflecting very badly as it does on some individuals in Rochdale Council that should require measured and honest public responses in due course.

Moving forward, let’s hope lesson have been learned, by us all.


Andrew Wastling

The views expressed are those of the author of the letter and not those of Rochdale Online.

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