Westminster Council to push ahead with social care cuts

Most people consulted disagreed with proposals as questionnaire is labelled “confusing”

WESTMINSTER Council has come under fire for continuing with highly controversial proposals to cut social care despite the majority of consultation respondents opposing the plans and user groups claiming the consultation process was flawed.

Council officers are recommending the eligibility criteria for adult care is raised from ‘moderate’ to ‘substantial’, which would affect 3,000 people, while the day service at a specialist physical disability centre in Westbourne Park is set to close.

But care group representatives claim the consultation documents were “hard to understand” and poorly distributed among users.

At a council scrutiny committee meeting on Tuesday, Carol Foyle, from the Westminster Society for people with learning disabilities, said only 26 per cent of their group’s users personally received the information.

“Most carers had not heard about it until we told them,” she told councillors and officers. “We could have helped with contacting carers but we weren’t asked.

“The questionnaire was actually very hard to understand, 90 per cent of people with learning disabilities that we spoke to did not understand the word ‘moderate’.”

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A total of 75 per cent of respondents to the easy read version of the consultation questionnaire disagreed with raising eligibility and more than half of respondents to the normal questionnaire also disagreed. While 71 per cent of respondents strongly disagreed with plans to close the day centre at the Westminster Centre for Independent Living on Westbourne Park Road.

David Hogarth, of Westminster Older People’s Action, said: “As I read through the results I found a sense of joy because I thought, how can they continue with this in light of the information they have collected? But they have.

“I don’t think any self-respecting council should take a decision knowing it will cause deterioration in their older people.

“I would be happy to see our streets a little shabbier to have more happy people.”

Ash Naghouni, chairman of Westminster Action Network on Disability (WAND), said some service users had already been told they will not be eligible for care.

“It brings into question the whole legitimacy of this consultation if people have been told that already,” he said. “Raising the criteria is not going to save the council any money.”

He said if Westminster went ahead with reducing the eligibility criteria, only 172 people with physical disabilities between the ages of 18 and 64 would receive care compared to 990 in Lambeth, 785 in Camden and 530 in Islington.

Writing in the report, officers state one of the options for the Westbourne Park Road centre is “sale of the site”.

Although adult services boss Cllr Daniel Astaire said a sale is just one of the options being explored, campaigners are eager to secure a delay in a decision being made.

Neil Jameson of community organisation alliance London Citizens said his group has devised an alternative plan for the centre which is cheaper and retains the building, but they need three months to finalise their idea.

Cllr Astaire said: “This has not been an easy process for anyone. We listened to what was said and we listened to the consultations we received. I think the result is fair, balanced and weighs up the anxieties we all have.”

The proposals will now be presented to a Westminster Cabinet meeting on Monday where a final decision will be made.