The Labour group are extremely concerned by the proposal put to Medway Council’s Conservative Cabinet, to privatise or scrap vital adult social care services which have previously been run by the council.
It is proposed that the Balfour Centre, the day centre in Rochester that provides support for adults with disabilities – offering them the chance to get out and enjoy the companionship of others, in a safe and caring environment – is to be closed down.
It is claimed that the new system of ‘Personalised Payments’ promoted by the government has led to a decline in attendance, as service users decide to spend their personal budget on alternative social care arrangements, though it is not clear what these alternatives are.
For similar reasons, based on cost above all, Robert Bean Lodge, and Nelson Court, which provide residential care for older people with dementia, as well as Platters Farm Lodge, an intermediate care facility, are to be put up for tender to be run by private companies in the competitive manner of the marketplace.
This is a very worrying development, not least in light of current reports from the Equality and Human Rights Commission which highlighted the grave abuses of older people by home care providers – presumably one of the alternatives older people are encouraged to purchase from personalised budgets. Horrifying abuses in privately run accommodation based care homes have also been covered in the press of late.
The report found many examples of older people’s human rights being breached, including: “physical or financial abuse, disregarding their privacy and dignity, failing to support them with eating or drinking, treating them as if they were invisible, and paying little attention to what they wanted”.
There is also significant concern for the staff employed at these sites. Though it is suggested that staff may be re-employed under new management, this is not a given, and many fear redundancy.
Furthermore, even where staff are kept on, the poor pay and conditions of workers at the hands of business-orientated providers often does not match the level of responsibility or the skills that are needed to provide quality care.
It is also unhelpful to the quality of care and well-being of vulnerable service users when staff turnover is frequent, or training is inadequate.
A further concern comes from the fact that many private care providers work on financially questionable models, with great potential for instability. Recently, Southern Cross – which ran two care homes in Medway – collapsed under the strain of its risky private equity financing model. Indeed, a study last month examined how 73 care companies have entered into administration over last year (up until September), compared with 35 in the previous 12 months. This is an issue the Labour group have continued to raise in Council, but have been faced only with rebukes from the Tories.
Cllr Teresa Murray, Medway Labour’s spokesperson for Health and Adult Social Care said:
“It is extremely concerning to see the Conservatives actively pursuing a policy of overt privatisation of the remaining adult care service sector, despite all the press in recent months about how a number of these organisations are managed to maximise profits for share-holders, at the expense of our society’s most vulnerable adults.
The Tory claim of efficiency is a foggy smokescreen given they have announced a predicted £5.1m overspend on capital and revenue budgets. It is simply another case of cynical Conservatives letting core services pay the price for their financial incompetence.
This is a true Scrooge-like move from the Tories, proposing potentially devastating cuts when they hope people’s backs are turned by the Christmas period. This, on top of the fact, the government is making it harder for disabled people to secure transport to access the services they need, where these are still available.
But we should not forget that Christmas can often be the loneliest time of the year for the elderly or vulnerable, with day centres often offering them the reprieve they need.
A large number of the service users have severe learning difficulties or are elderly residents who need very specific care. It is the least we can ask that we treat them with respect without the fear of constant change of staff and the upheaval this will cause. Sadly, our Conservatives are happy to waste money on flights of fancy but not willing to invest in core public services.”