Pensioners on the Fylde coast face being hit hard by “short-sighted”plans to cut funding for sheltered housing, it was claimed today.
Cash-strapped County Hall bosses are proposing to stop financial support for vulnerable people living in sheltered accommodation from 2017, in a move that would save £2.5m.
It comes as health chiefs warned savage cuts to social care and public health, unveiled as part of Lancashire County Council’s proposed budget, could increase the pressure on the NHS.
Cuts to sheltered housing, which would affect more than 1,200 people in Fylde and Wyre, would leave the service facing an uncertain future.
Tony Ward, of the Wyre Senior Forum, said: “It seems a nonsense when we are seeing all these problems with A&E at the moment.
“One of the root causes of that is the fact there is inadequate care in the community for people who are vulnerable to go back to somewhere safe and secure.
“These cuts are going to make the hospital situation even worse – it’s very short-sighted.”
If approved by councillors next month, the social care budget would be slashed by £66m over the next three years.
Spending on public health and wellbeing would fall by £23m in that time, and young people’s services would lose almost £10m.
Age UK today voiced its concerns over the plans, warning they could add to the problems faced by the elderly.
A spokesman for Age UK Lancashire said: “As a charity, we back campaigns to end pensioner poverty and this would be detrimental to that.
“Pensioner poverty already exists, and if the council were to cut funding for sheltered housing it is only going to make things worse.”
Savage funding cuts from central government means County Hall faces having to make £176m of savings by 2018, on top of those agreed last year, and the proposed budget outlines how it will reduce spending by £146m.
If approved in February, the cuts would leave the council with a net budget of £722m next year, reducing to £699m in 2017/18.
Responding to the council’s consultation over the proposals, Peter Tinson, chief operating officer at Fylde and Wyre Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), wrote: “We are concerned whether people and organisations are in possession of sufficient information to fully understand and respond to the service offers.
“It appears likely that the reduced offers will further exacerbate the pressures being experienced by local urgent care systems, and additionally result in an increased cost to the NHS, neither of which we understand has been quantified.
“Continued investment in social care, prevention and public health is fundamental to enable us to collectively respond to the population challenges we face, and make essential changes to the way services are provided.”
Deputy leader of Lancashire County Council David Borrow said that by planning now for these changes, there is still time to find solutions.
He said: “Even when the council has made its recommendations, there will be things that can change.
“There will need to be a further statutory consultation on a lot of these proposals and, as part of that process, the true importance of these changes will become more apparent.
“These are services to individuals who are very vulnerable, and it will be difficult to get that right.
“It is a real challenge – it is difficult to see how the thing will look in three years’ time.”
In other parts of the country, where councils have already reduced funding for sheltered housing, providers have had to review how services are provided.
An independent study, carried out by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2012, found cuts by other authorities led to reduced levels of intervention as staff were stretched between more residents.
It also found cuts could lead to greater isolation as there were fewer staff to support community interaction.
Lancashire County Council said sheltered housing is a non-statutory service and money is paid directly to providers, not to residents.
It funds 1,281 people in this way in Fylde and Wyre, while another 404 sheltered housing residents in the area do not qualify for financial support.
NHS chiefs are also concerned over a planned restructuring of public health services in Lancashire that would save £23m through reorganisation and job losses.
County Hall also plans to overhaul social care for adults with a learning disability in a bid to save £37m, which it says would provide a more “consistent and fair” service.
However, the council admits reducing its level of service risks “speeding up deterioration in service users health and wellbeing leading to increased crisis situations (and) admissions to hospital”.