Who Needs It Most?
County Council surveys the consequences of its cuts in social provision
The Discretionary East Sussex Support Scheme (DESSS) is funded by the County Council (ESCC) and delegated to local social enterprises and charities to administer. It has in recent years been providing practical support – in kind rather than cash – for the most vulnerable households to set up home, survive financial shocks and crises, and maintain necessary facilities.
Around 20% of DESSS funding currently goes to emergency help for food and utility bills, but the rest is spent on provision of basic household items. Most commonly these support resettlement after homelessness: moving out of institutional care situations, including hospital or prison, to independent living, also moving for medical reasons, domestic violence or other family breakdown. But the scheme has also helped households with low incomes to cope with financial shocks so that they can remain independent and not have to resort to loan sharks.
In February this year ESCC agreed a budget for 2018/19 that made overall savings of £17 million. Despite central government flagging up its concerns that county councils were likely to need to spend more on adult social care to take pressure off the beleaguered National Health Service and actually offering ESCC an extra £1.6 million to help, the council slashed its own funding of Adult Social Care and Health provision by nearly £10 million. Budget cuts in the region of £8.5 million thus need to be found. And at the top of the Council’s list of these is an intended 70% whittling of expenditure on the DESSS, including a halt to the provision of furniture or fridges and reduction of help for rent in advance, which is often crucial for a new household to get started.
According to Hastings and Rother Furniture Service (HFS), which has been among the charities accessing and delivering furniture and appliances to qualifying households, ESCC has adopted this programme in breach of a previous pledge to retain a previous £380,000 under-spend in the new DESSS budget. Moreover the Council itself appears seems to understand that the short term benefit of balancing its books will be outweighed by longer term consequences. A survey document which it has issued to providers for “consultation” admits that it is proposing “to spend less money on preventative services which help stop or delay the need for more expensive statutory services”. But of course these services may then fall to be provided by other public institutions funded from some other public budget – the NHS when needy people get ill, for instance, the prison and probation services if they resort to crime – as well as the Council’s own statutory social services.
The “consultation” survey is on-line and relates to all aspects of the programme for cuts in Adult Social Care. Responses are sought not only from providers and from beneficiaries and their families and friends but also from members of the public who are concerned. It asks what they “think about” the proposed cuts, how people and organisations will be affected, and whether they have any alternative suggestions for making the savings.
Naomi Ridley, Chief Executive of HFS, comments that the reduction in the DESSS budget has been set “regardless of the impact of the scheme for local households in crisis and in spite of the rapid growth of homelessness in our area”. She wants to encourage as many people as possible to take part in the consultation, whether they are directly affected or not.
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