Thursday, 5 January 2012

Guest Blog – Safeguarding Overview & Scrutiny Committee

By Julia Hines

Barnet Council kick off the New Year with a meeting of the Safeguarding Overview & Scrutiny Committee. The papers are here:  

And they start the meeting with the news that Barnet’s Children’s Safeguarding Service has been recognised with an award. Congratulations are due; Barnet should feel really proud of this.
I remain critical of the fact that there was no safeguarding investigation into events at Barbara Langstone House when MetPro/ Evolution were running security there, given that the company was committing a criminal offence by operating without a licence, and that crime reports fell after they were replaced, but that does not mean that other good work should not be recognised.

Moving on.
Looking down the meeting agenda you will see an item on the Fairer Contributions Policy. The Council receives about 17% of its income from Council Tax, about 16% from fines and charges and the rest essentially from central government. The amount received from central government is, as everyone knows, being cut. Barnet has a policy of keeping Council Tax unchanged and increasing the income from fines & charges – including parking charges, planning application charges, rental for council buildings like scout huts, and charges for social care. This is partly because of central government policy, which rewards them for this, but it does lead to what are effectively stealth taxes.
Barnet Adult Social Services is being cut by 26% over 4 years.  They are dealing with this in two ways. Firstly they are cutting their contracts to the voluntary sector, who deliver a significant part of their frontline services, by 33% in two years, despite the Best Value Statutory Guidance from central government which mandates that cuts should not be passed on disproportionately to the voluntary sector. They are making some cuts in-house. And they are increasing their income from fines and charges. This is the Fairer Contributions Policy.
Older people and those with disabilities have always been subject to a financial assessment and, if they have savings, been expected to pay for, or contribute to, their own care. People with mild or moderate needs have not received direct financial support from the Council for some time, although there are some services for them provided or subsidised by contract funding with Barnet.
The report to the Safeguarding O & S Committee states that, whereas under the old assessment 33% made a financial contribution to their care, under the new assessment 59% do. Of those 44% receive no financial support at all for their care now.

Suddenly the “Fairer” bit of the Fairer Contributions Policy sounds like Orwellian double-speak.
Barnet is not the only local authority acting this way
There is evidence of older people reducing their attendance at day care services for dementia since the policy was introduced. Day care is charged at £38 a day excluding transport costs, so this is not surprising to me. Homecare costs about £15 ph if you need help with personal care like washing, dressing, cooking or shopping.
Barnet’s stated view is that if people are not prepared to pay for their care, they obviously do not need it. Market forces at work. I do not think this is an accurate analysis, or one that is sophisticated enough. It seems to me that it is the equivalent of saying that the 800 older people who die each winter from hypothermia just did not want to be warm.
The estimated average cost of care needed by the Council’s own assessment, for people who get no financial support, is £84/ week and for those who have to make a contribution it is about half that.  How many of us could afford that? How many of us expect to be able to afford that when we are pensioners. Let us not forget that this is an average; many people will need to spend much more than this to get the minimum care the Council’s own assessment says they need.
Clearly there do need to be cuts to Barnet spending. But scandals like MetPro & RM Countryside show that there may well be “low-hanging” fruit in terms of savings to be made before pushing the cuts onto the most vulnerable people in Barnet. Older and disabled people may not have the voice to speak out in the way that Barnet CPZ Action do, or the local traders terrified about losing their businesses because of cashless parking. That does not mean they do not have a case.
In the end, does this approach save taxpayers’ money?
If older people need care but cannot afford it they will probably get ill. And that will probably be expensive. For taxpayers.
Social care is important and expensive. In the longer term the Government will need to address the thorny issues of the Dilnot report. To listen to a sensible opinion on this from John Redwood, amongst others, listen here
Perhaps residents need to consider whether they are comfortable with the fairness of keeping Council Tax unchanged, spending vast amounts on consultants, and indirectly taxing people who need care most.
I am a local resident and chair of Age UK Barnet. This is a voluntary position. This blog represents my personal view.
Age UK Barnet receives contract funding from the Council. You can read about Age UK Barnet here:
PS There is a donate button in the top right corner.
Julia Hines is a Barnet Eye reader. Guest blogs are always welcome. Please submit using the email link in the side bar.


Mr Mustard said...

There is also a danger I think that if the use of day care centres reduces they will have to put up their charges in order to maintain their service, or some could close.

We really do need to ask ourselves why society exists. Are we to go back to the dark ages whereby if you have no family you are basically left to fend for yourself, or enter Mrs Angry's workhouse. She was joking but we are headed that way.

Society is meant to offer a safety net.

I personally would rather that my Council Tax went up more or less with inflation than the current inequitable system.

Mrs Angry said...

A very important issue, Julia, and one which most people know very little about until their own needs or those of a relative require support.

I also believe that most people would prefer to protect council services rather than be continually told to be grateful for a council tax freeze. The Tory obsession with freezing tax is an ideological obsession with dreadful consequences for the most vulnerable residents.

And although we should recognise the hard work of ordinary council officers working in safeguarding, the fact remains that not only did Barnet's senior management team fail to implement the most basic safeguarding regulations in regard to CRB checks for MetPro employees who had contact with children already at risk, the same team obstinately refused to implement any investigation to ascertain whether any of those children were harmed in any way. This is in my view a completely indefensible failure in terms of safeguarding, and I would have thought that any reasonable person would think the same.

Jaybird said...

Thanks for the comments. My problem is that the fine & charges are an indirect & unfair form of taxation. I do not have a problem with some increases, depending on the level of them. For example, I am not against an increase in the cost of planning applications, within reason. I am not sure how they will stay reasonable after outsourcing of course, or what the democratic oversight will be.

As far as older people go, the difficulty of course is that if people cannot afford to buy care they need there is likely to be a crisis, which the taxpayer, one way or another, will deal have to deal with. More costly, and more suffering.