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Funding

I think I’m supposed to be grateful.

I think all of us disabled, and older people are supposed to say ‘Thank you’ to the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, for his much flaunted, much hyped boost of £2bn for Social Care in yesterday’s Spring Budget.

Well then.

Here goes…

Thank you Mr Hammond, you are so beneficent and generous.

Sure, £2bn is an awful lot of money, and, with any luck it, at least some of should help ease the Care Crisis we currently have in this country, but it can only help if it actually filters down to the people it’s supposed to be helping. My major concern is that it will be shared out amongst all the Social Services Departments, nationwide, and will just vanish into their usual, annual Social Care black hole. We, the older and disabled people who are the ones who are supposed to reap the benefit will probably get to see little, if any, of it at all.

As someone who is in receipt of Social Care, there I three places I can think of straight off where that £2bn could make a real difference if it was spent properly.

First of all, I would like to see the money being put towards ending the farce of the fifteen minute care-call. How can anyone in their right mind think that fifteen minutes is long enough to provide any form of meaningful care for a disabled or older person? It’s barely long enough to make a sandwich or boil a kettle for a cup of tea, let alone help a frail person access the toilet, get them dressed or undressed, make sure they’re comfortable and safe, cook a light meal and help them eat it, if they need help, make a bed and do a little light housework.

Some of Mr Hammond’s £2bn definitely needs to go towards this.

Secondly, the paltry amount Home Care workers get paid needs to be addressed.

When I was in receipt of Agency Care, via my Local Authority, the workers were receiving little more than the minimum wage, indeed, in some instances it seemed as if they were even getting less than that. I now get my care through a scheme called ‘Direct Payments’ whereby my Local Authority pays the amount they would have spent on Agency Care directly to me and I get to employ and pay for my own carers. In theory, this is a great plan and, for many, it works well but it is impossible to offer a decent wage for the work that needs to be done and therefore, get the most suitable carers. The amount I get, for example, allows me to offer an hourly rate of just £9.40, before tax and NI, hardly a fortune, especially when you consider the level of personal care I am expecting those workers to undertake.  I would dearly like to be able to offer more but, as someone with no private income whatsoever to fall back on apart from my Welfare Benefits, I am stuck with just the funding my Social Services Department allows me every month for my long-suffering and excellent carers. Hardly enough at all.

Some of Mr Hammond’s £2bn needs to go towards this.

Then thirdly, there’s something which doesn’t affect me personally as yet. The amount that is available for both short, and long-term, residential Care Home accommodation. How can we expect older and disabled people to receive good quality, dedicated care when they need intesive care or can no longer live in their own home, if the amount Residential Homes are given for each resident’s care package is so small? We can’t

Some of Mr Hammond’s £2bn needs to go towards this.

What I really want to see most after yesterday’s display of Governmental generosity would be a completely new Care Strategy for our country. There needs to be meaningful consultation with the Care providers, the medical profession and carers themselves, both Home Care and Care Home agencies and workers and the Care Recipients, namely all the older and disabled people who need help to live in comfort and with dignity. We need to be assured that any extra or new funding is being spent wisely and well and is contributing towards the wellbeing of those who need it most.  

Some of Mr Hammond’s £2bn definitely needs to go towards this.

I am getting entirely fed up with the number of adverts I am seeing on my TV for lotteries and, in particular, lotteries for charities.

Seemingly endless ways of people wanting to take my money for largely, no return.

RNIB, Poppy Lottery, Oxfam, Cancer Research, they’re all doing it. The list is never-ending.  

Why are these charities spending, what must be thousands, on this sort of TV advertising and why are they pandering to our ‘get rich quick’ society. Why re they trying to take our money for virtually nothing. Celebrities don’t do these ads for free, they charge, the TV companies showing the ads don’t air them for nothing, they are out to make a profit. £1 per week here, £1 per week there, for every pound spent on lotteries, that’s one less pound that could be spent on things more important things such as food, clothes, heating and lighting.

It all mounts up, there must be another way.

And, who are the people who spend money on lotteries, speculating on financial pipe-dreams? Is it the people at the top, the people with money to burn, the bankers, the politicians, the businessmen and women in the gilded skyscrapers of the City, the high rollers, the elite or is it the people at the bottom who just scraping by and who barely have enough for their daily living needs. The celebrities who are promoting these lotteries are unlikely to be buying their weekly ticket, the shareholders of the TV companies showing the ads are not dreaming of a big win, they already get that when their dividends are paid. A study in the USA in the Journal of Gambling Studies in 2012 found that ‘Those in the lowest fifth in terms of socioeconomic status (SES) had the “highest rate of lottery gambling (61%)’. It’s not the rich who are gambling away their money because that’s what it is, gambling, it’s the poor who have little enough disposable income as it is. I know that someone has to win and that some lucky people actually have, but the chances ‘It Could be You’ are vanishingly small.

Unlike the National Lottery, big-charity lottery players don’t even receive a ticket or have a thrill of anticipation, watching the balls being drawn live, checking their numbers off when the draw is made after yet another TV, get rich quick, game show. They don’t even know what their numbers are or which numbers have been drawn each week. Nothing to show for what they have spent. They just have the money taken out of their bank accounts, week in, week out for nothing more than an sophisticated raffle.

It all mounts up, there must be another way.

I know these charities do amazing things for their beneficiaries. I know they need to get their money from somewhere. Having worked for one of them I am fully aware of the great work that is being done, how much it costs and all the people who are being helped but, much of the time, the people paying out and buying the tickets are the very same people who are on the receiving end too. All too often the pound they spent on their ticket is going into the grants for good causes which they are using and benefiting from anyway.

Why not cut out the middlemen who are making and showing the ads and doing something else instead. If the celebrities, TV Companies and big businesses who have so much just gave just a little of it every year to Charities then we wouldn’t need the endless lotteries. And regular donations would be so much better and so much more helpful anyway. The big charities could still get their money and the smaller charities could still get their grants but there would be some certainty to the charity’s income. And the government could help too. Instead of giving tax-breaks to the rich they could give more of our tax money to the services that are currently being propped up by the charities operating lotteries.    

I’m not against people having fun or trying to dictate how people send their money but I do find the non-stop ‘it’s only a pound’ mantra more than a little cynical. Paying fifty pence on the raffle or the tombola at the church fete, school fair or country show, where players stand a reasonable chance of winning a box of chocolates or a bottle of bubbly is one thing but the big, national charity lotteries where your chance of winning anything meaningful are something else entirely.

It all mounts up, there must be another way.

Robin Hood robbed the rich to give to the poor but we appear to be robbing the poor to help the poor down the road whilst the rich sit in their ivory towers raking in the proceeds.

There has to be another way.

Yesterday, yet another library in my Borough, the London Borough of Lambeth, was closed. Parents and toddlers coming for their weekly story-telling afternoon were turned away, doors were padlocked to keep both staff and customers out, shelves were cleared and removal vans were sent in to remove both furniture and assets. Today I am seeing pictures of packing crates in empty rooms and uniformed security guards patrolling the premises and hearing tragic tales of other local libraries nationwide being striped of their staff, their stock and their identity.

Why?

What is it about Libraries, their history, their function, their unique position in society, their unquestionable importance, that my local Council, and indeed, other Councils don’t seem to understand? Libraries were set up to be free, public repositories of knowledge not, as Lambeth seems to think, a simple bookshelf in a church hall, surgery or gym which is what they are proposing that we should have.  This wanton destruction of our precious facilities, our heritage, our children and grandchildren’s futures has to stop now, before it’s too late and the situation cannot be reversed.

The heart is being ripped out of our communities and it can’t be allowed to continue.

According to figures I have seen in the last couple of days regarding council spending, I understand that during the last financial year over £13million of our Council Tax in my area was spent on ‘Corporate Office Accommodation’, whatever that might be, whilst only a miserly £57,000 was invested in library provision Boroughwide. £57,000 invested in one of the greatest information resources we have in the area. £57,000 invested in our young people’s future. In a Borough with a total population of around 316,000 people that amounts to just £5.58 for each man, woman and child. Not even the price of your average cut-price paperback.

Well, forgive me, but that just doesn’t seem right.

I pay my taxes for services and facilities that will benefit everyone not just a select coterie at the top. Services that will benefit, not just me, but my children, my future grandchildren, my neighbours, my neighbours’ children and grandchildren and my entire community. I don’t pay my taxes for unused empty buildings and city centre office blocks. I want value for the many for my money, not perks for the few but that’s not what I’m getting.

And I can look at what’s happening from a different angle, through different eyes. I am not just a local resident and taxpayer, I am also a trained librarian so I can look at what is happening as a qualified professional, not just as a vociferous and angry service user. I have worked in public libraries, school libraries, university libraries and specialist libraries within national and multinational businesses and corporations.

When I studied for my BA(Hons) in Librarianship in the 1980s, I learnt about the beauty of both language and literature, the wonder of local and national history, the importance of all knowledge and I was taught everything I needed to know about high quality information provision for all. I learnt about storing, guarding, protecting and sharing information and helping others to access that information whenever they needed to. I was not taught how to pack it away and put it into storage, hidden from sight, which is what seems to be happening, not just in Lambeth, but throughout the country.

I’m pretty sure we were taught that what local communities wanted and needed and cherished was unfettered access to books and computers and information and space to study with properly qualified, fully committed, professional library staff who knew the local area and what other facilities were available for people to use should they want to. We were not taught to value corporate offices we were unlikely to ever use or see. We were trained to become Library staff who were prepared to invest time and effort in listening to our customer’s questions, finding the answers to those questions and showing people how to do their own research if they wanted to know more. I’m pretty certain we weren’t taught that what local communities wanted most for their money were posh offices with comfy chairs and shiny desks for transient local councillors and overpaid council executives.

How much longer will both Lambeth Council and other Councils continue to forget that local libraries are a valuable resource for everyone, maybe even the most valuable of all resources for so many people within the area?

Residents have been investing in their libraries for decades so please, don’t close them and take them from us. We have needed them in the past, we still need them now and we will continue to need them long into the future.

Don’t take away one of the greatest assets we all have. There must be other, less painful ways to save money. Leave us our libraries and try something else.

I have been been gently fuming for a couple of weeks now.

My anger has been like a slow burning fuse on a pile of dynamite and now I am ready to explode.

If you have been reading or watching the local and national news over the past two or three weeks you may have seen stories about a local library in South East London that was scheduled for closure by the Local Authority and was therefore occupied by local people for several days in protest at that closure.

Well, that was my local library. If I hadn’t been stuck in bed due to my impairment, I would have been there too but I wasn’t able to take part in that bit of the protest, much to my chagrin. However, that doesn’t mean I did nothing. I might not be able to protest physically any more but I can do it in words. Writing is what I do best so I wrote. My contribution to the fight was to send letters voicing my concerns to local Councillors and MPs asking them to stop what they were doing and reconsider. I wrote to all three to my councillors, only one responded, I wrote to my MP who sent me a nice but largely ineffective email back, I wrote to members of the Greater London Authority who didn’t bother replying to me at all and I wrote to my MEP who ignored me. All the protests, the marches, the occupation, the petitions and the letters were disregarded and ignored and the library ended up being closed.

But the fight goes on.

The closure of the Carnegie Library in Herne Hill was part of a programme of library closures planned and orchestrated by Lambeth Council. The idea seems to be that we will get a lovely, but unwanted and unneeded, new gym, with a bookshelf in the corner, and no Library staff whatsoever. Lambeth Council are hellbent on getting us to exercise our bodies whilst ignoring the importance of exercising the mind.

How short-sighted. How wrong and how short-sighted.

But that’s not the thing that’s angered me the most about the whole situation. No whilst I am incensed by the library’s closure, the thing that has rattled my cage and prompted my ire, and this blog, is the email I received from one of my Ward Councillors in response to my letter of protest.

Councillor Jack Holborn, Labour, informed me, in an email,  that: ‘If we specially exempted the library service from any cuts, more would have to come from the big areas of the budget, such as looking after older people, or council tax support for the poorest.’

How dare he!

How dare he try tugging on heartstrings by implying that it was the library or services for the most vulnerable in the Borough that had to go! He was obviously trying to make me feel guilty about wanting to put books over people. Well, I am a severely disabled person and a qualified Librarian and what he has written will not wash with me. I find it despicable.

Libraries are not just about books, libraries are about people too. Libraries are places people visit to find information about local groups and services. Libraries are places where local groups such as local historians, and preschool story-telling groups can meet. Libraries are places where schoolchildren can work. Libraries are places parents can take their children, secure in the knowledge that there are people there who can help them to learn. Libraries are places where students can do research for their exams and assignments. Libraries are places where people can access computers and the internet if don’t have that facility at home and where everyone can receive professional guidance should they need it. How dare Councillor Holborn try to imply in his response that, by wanting to save all that and so much more, I was not concerned about local people. I am very concerned about local people Mr Holborne and, what concerns me the most, is the fact that they, and I, am currently represented by someone who would dare to try playing such tricks with my heart and mind and think he could get away with it. Well, it didn’t work. You failed. Jack Holborne, please rest assured that there is one voter here who will never be voting for you again. I would never be able to put my trust in someone who has the nerve to try to do what you have done. Implying that I don’t care about disabled and older people and poorer people was a step too far. I would never be able to trust anyone who believes they can get away with doing that. 

You’ve lost me.

Bye-bye.

I sometimes wonder how local Councils think they can get away with some of the things they do. Well, actually, I know exactly what they think they can get away with, pretty well anything they like because no-one seems to do anything about most of it.

So, I hear you asking, what is she talking about this time?

What has rattled her cage today?

Well, as always, it’s more stuff I have learnt from my favoured medium, Facebook. People have posted up links to stories that have made me really angry. Again.

As far as I can see, two London Councils, Barnet and Hammersmith and Fulham, have decided to axe their Meals on Wheels Service for older and disabled people. In the case of one of these Councils it has been suggested that the Service can be replaced by providing vulnerable people with frozen, Tesco Finest, ready meals which will need to be microwaved and, the other Council suggests, Foodbanks can take up the strain.

No, no and no!

What is it about Meals on Wheels that these Councils are failing to grasp? This is a service that is for older and disabled people who are unable to prepare a decent meal and cook for themselves or use a microwave to ensure that they get to eat one nutritious, balanced, hot meal every day. They are not a luxury for the lazy who can’t be bothered to cook, they are a necessity for people who would otherwise be resorting to soup and sandwiches, if they are to get anything much to eat at all. Ready Meals are not, as far as I can tell, the most wonderful things you can buy to eat. Even the so-called ‘Finest’ range seem to have excess sugar, salt and preservatives in them. The ingredients cannot be described as ‘fresh’ having been mainly frozen or dried and they have not been lovingly prepared by trained cooks or chefs for the consumer’s delectation. They are fine for a one off, emergency meal, but not every day and certainly not for older and disabled people who need good, healthy meals which include all the right amounts of the recommended food groups to stay as fit as possible. Ready meals are not the solution, they are merely an emergency or stop-gap measure which should be the exception and not the rule. It may be cheaper in the short-term to provide ready meals for everyone who needs them but, in the long-term, all you are likely to end up with is more admissions in hospitals for malnutrition or diabetes or people with raised blood pressure or heart problems due to an overload of sodium in their diet.

Then there is the other idea. That Foodbanks can take up the slack. Apart from anything else, this shows a complete lack of understanding of the role and purpose of a foodbank. The food that people get from them is not a cooked meal, it is uncooked food which the recipients need to be able to prepare and cook themselves. On their own. Without help. Why do people who have Meals on Wheels use the service? Because they are unable to prepare and cook a meal for themselves. Giving vulnerable people the ingredients is not going to help, however nice they if they are, if these people are unable to do anything with them. What people need is a fully prepared, cooked  meal, not a new household decoration. It makes no sense. Just because someone has the raw ingredients for a meal it does not mean they have had anything to eat. Not only that but Foodbanks don’t have the staff to to cook and prepare meals. They don’t have the vans or the drivers to deliver them. And, they don’t have any kitchens either.

It’s time Local Councils nationwide stop trying to always take the cheapest option but actually think about what they are doing. Saving money in the short-term is all very well and good but, if that saving creates even more problems, is it a saving at all? Stop taking a seemingly easy option without considering the consequences. Spending a little more now could save so much further on down the line. Look at the reason a service is being provided before cutting it to the quick. Short-term solutions rarely work in the long term.

Why do successive Governments hate the voluntary sector so much?

Every year organisation after organisation is forced to close when their funding is withdrawn Organisations that have helped so many people are lost. During my working life I have been made redundant three times and, on every occasion, it has been due to the reduction of one charity or another’s means of support. Organisations that had, in one instance, been around for fifty years at the time of closure, gone forever.

My first experience of redundancy was when my local council withdrew the grants it paid to our Centre for Independent Living. An entire London borough, full of disabled people, who no longer had access to the support they needed. And half a dozen disabled people out of work. Me included.Then there was the disability organisation that had been serving the needs of all disabled Londoners for fifty years. Funding stopped. Disabled people in our nation’s capital left unsupported and another ten disabled employees thrown on the scrapheap. Me included. My most recent experience of redundancy was when the national organisation I worked for than helped and supported disabled people with legal issues was almost forced to close as well. Even more disabled people out of work. Me included. Thankfully, the organisation is still in existence but it’s size has diminished dramatically.   

And now, an organisation that means a lot to one of my children is under threat. So much so that my child has created an online petition to try to save it. This time it is a charity which supports LGBT victims of domestic violence nationwide. Over the past financial year it has helped over 10,000 service users,  People who would have found it significantly more difficult to access the support they need at a crucial and terrifying time in their lives.  

What is going on? What is the problem? Why is the Government doing this? Why are they taking away the money these organisations need so much and causing, at the very least, service reductions but, in many instances, closures and yet more redundancies. Anyone would think they were frightened. Anyone would think that these charities were some sort of threat to someone. Anyone would think that someone wants to restrict their activities. All these organisations all have one thing in common. They are all organisations which have challenged or are continuing to challenge local and national governmental actions and policies towards minority groups. Disabled people, LGBT people. Both groups of individuals who experience, almost daily, discrimination. Both groups of people who need help, advice and protection.

This week it has been revealed that the Cabinet Office has announced a new clause in grant agreements which will ban charities and other organisations that receive Government grants from using that money to lobby Government and Parliament about issues concerning the groups they support. Why? Could it be because the Government is fully aware that what they are doing is going to hurt people,make their lives so much more difficult and, in some instances, dangerous. Maybe even life threatening. What does it take for this Government to ensure that all citizens are supported, not just the wealthy few. Charity can be defined as the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need. This Government, and successive Governments over the past three or four decades, seem to have forgotten this and, instead, seem to see our organisations as easy targets. If you don’t want us to fight you, stop proposing and passing legislation which will cause discrimination, violence and harm to the people who are least able to do anything about it without help. Listen to us when we tell you what we need and then we might thank you and not have to challenge you at every turn.

To support ‘Broken Rainbow’, please read and sign the petition at: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/120828. Thank you.