Funding shift could put the vulnerable at risk

CHARITIES have hit out at county council plans to change the way groups are funded, saying the proposals could leave hundreds of vulnerable people at risk.

East Sussex County Council is considering calling a halt to cash support for all but the most at risk locals amid mounting pressure to make £100million in savings.

The authority’s adult social care department ranks people into one of four categories and, under the plans mooted this week, only those people who fell into the most severe bracket would receive funding for support.

If approved this move would see a host of charities which currently get funding to offer services hit with a significant drop in cash.

And, some say, the change could even threaten their long-term future.

One of those charities likely to be affected is the Parchment Trust, which provides day support for 150 disabled adults every week across its two Hastings sites.

It has a day centre in Nelson Road and a horticultural project on The Ridge called Friary Gardens, which is also used by pupils from Glyne Gap and St Mary’s special needs schools.

The trust’s general manager, Andrew Phillips, says the 44 staff and volunteers are becoming increasingly worried about the impact of funding cuts.

He told the Observer: “To introduce a blanket funding ban on anyone not in the most severe way might save money in the very short-term, but if you remove that support it would catapult people into that critical position and result in expensive care in the future – not to mention the moral obligation.

“Without the funding in place, the majority of our service users would lose their independence, become socially isolated and see a definite drop in their quality of life.”

He was echoed by Pauline Fletcher, of Hastings and Bexhill Mencap Society, who said the charity helped more than 100 people each week, but that the majority fell into the second most severe category, labelled substantial.

And she is worried that removing key support from these people would be hugely detrimental to their quality of life. “This has not been thought out. It will have a major impact on people’s lives and is a cut too far,” she said.

“Some of the people we work with use our service five days a week and it is vital to their independence. If that is taken away we believe some service users will slip through the net. And, if services like ours are stripped back there will be nobody there to pick up the pieces when this goes wrong.”

The proposed cuts were discussed by county councillors earlier this week during a meeting in Lewes. There councillors warned tough decisions would have to be made but there was the possibility that anticipated additional funding could help some in the substantial risk bracket.

Cllr Keith Glazier also said: “If there is an alternative to changing the criteria we are up for looking at it.”

Local MP Amber Rudd, however, was appalled the subject was even being discussed. She said: “This is absolutely unacceptable, we cannot have a situation where people who are already defined as having substantial needs do not get support.

“East Sussex County Council must think again. I understand that cuts must be made but this is the wrong place and the wrong time.”

And Ms Rudd, along with a host of local charities, is urging Observer readers to lobby the council to re-think the plans. Consultation on the cuts runs until February 16 and readers can make their feelings known by filling in an online survey at www.eastsussex.gov.uk/yourcouncil or call 01273 481565 to request a hard copy.

Mrs Fletcher added: “I would encourage as many local people as possible to fill in the survey, sign petitions and contact their county councillor.”