In the BBC’s series Yes Minister during an episode entitled The Moral Dimension, when responding to the Minister’s question was winking at corruption government policy, Sir Humphrey unashamedly replies; “No Minister, it could never be government policy. That is unthinkable. Only government practice”. This not totally unrelated issue from a classic comedy series, did make me think about how certain policies pursued by national governments, are actually put into practice by their local counterparts.
Perusing the local press – if only to find out the latest state of Walsall pensioners dining arrangements since the council scrapped the meals-on-wheels service earlier this year – I came across a couple of stories resulting from a decision made by Walsall Council earlier this year, but which was deferred until after the last local elections. These concerned plans by the Tory dominated council ( it was actually Tory controlled prior May 05th ) to increase the costs of home care provided by its social services department. In one instance, a resident wrote in to say that his 81-year-old mother has had her weekly contribution increased from £28.55 per week to a whopping £70.26p per week, a rise of 60%. This increase includes a charge for her community alarm, a vital lifeline for elderly people wishing to retain some independence by continuing to live at home, as I know from personal experience with my own mother. Local MP David Winnick, in his regular column in the Walsall Advertiser on June 02nd, reported how during a recent surgery a pensioner couple with limited means who look after their disabled 40-year-old son, have received a demand from the same council for £1,913 as their contribution to the costs of providing such care. Today in the House of Commons, Mr Winnick also publicly condemned Walsall Council for forcing an 84-year-old widow to pay more than £4,000 to help look after her 60-year-old disabled son.
All these increases are as a direct result of cuts being imposed by central government upon local councils, who in turn are having to cut services and/or increase charges often to the most vulnerable members in our society. Many of these people are already struggling to make ends meet on the paltry amounts provided through the Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and Severe Disability Premium payments, and most face the threat of re-assessments to their benefit entitlement as part of the governments shake-up of the welfare system. Given the state of the Atos computerised system with its reliance on tick box answers in determining legitimacy of claims, disability campaigners such as myself are increasingly being made aware of people driven to desperate measures, including a few reported cases of suicide.
Walsall Council have to find some £70 million worth of cuts over the next three years; yet it would appear they intend to alleviate the worst effects of this policy by taking it out on those least able to fend for themselves, and hope the voluntary sector will pick up the slack. The Tories lost eight seats on May 05th leaving them running a minority administration. They would be well advised to remember that for all their problems, disabled people are voters too: in time, even Walsall Tories may come to regret using the disabled as an easy conduit for their national colleagues pernicious and unnecessary cuts.