Cat Smith column: Lancashire County Council's support for austerity is harming the vulnerable people in our community
I'm shocked to discover how far the Conservative-controlled Lancashire County Council is prepared to go to support its Government's austerity agenda.
A whole raft of slash and burn measures are about to be debated – like the closure of the Lancashire Breaktime Service. This service provides short breaks to give the primary carer of a child with special educational needs and/or disabilities, a breather from their caring role while their child attends a fun group activity. The break is for a period of at least two hours. The Tories want to slash this service.
And children get targeted again, with the council wanting to remove school bus services where no pupils statutorily entitled to free school transport have travelled on a contracted school bus for two years, and where season ticket revenue does not cover the cost of the contract. The proposal is likely to have a greater impact on children living in rural and low population areas like Over Wyre where travelling numbers are low. It may also impact upon school numbers in certain schools if parents/guardians make school placement choices based on existing school and public bus transport availability.
Among other plans are reducing the opening hours of Household Waste Recycling Centres from 9am to 5pm and opening some for five days of the week – with job losses inevitable, and fly-tipping even more of a problem.
Another suggestion is to slash night lighting on 18,000 street lights in residential areas during the LED lamp replacement programme. This could lead to an increase in crime.
Lancashire County Council set a budget of £0.131m each year to maintain three traveller sites across the county. As there is no statutory requirement to retain these sites, this has also been identified as a potential saving. Where will the travellers go?
And the elderly are being targeted too. The Tories want to increase the charges old people pay for attending the county council’s own older people’s day services (and associated transport costs) so that self-funders pay the same rate that statutory agencies pay for the places they commission. Charges to self-funders will increase by 15 per cent. Older people paid their taxes for access to these services, and now they’re been asked to pay again.
The Tories also want to limit the provision of welfare benefit advice and guidance to complex cases only. The council also wants to look at remodelling drug, alcohol, tobacco and healthy weight services – adding to the burden on the NHS for decades to come.
And finally the council wants to close the Lancashire Wellbeing Service. This service is used by 11,000 people a year and offers vital support to people living with depression, social isolation and long term health conditions.
So to recap – the cuts the council wants to engineer will hit school children, children and young people with special educational needs, carers, the elderly, people with serious health issues, people who live in houses with street lighting and people who use waste recycling centres. In fact, all of us. Do we pay less council tax than people in other areas?
No. Instead we’re the victims of a decision made in 2010 by David Cameron and George Osborne to cut local government budgets. This has been continued by the current Prime Minister. The outcome? The rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the social fabric of our society falls apart.