Survey shows closures has devastating impact on vulnerable people

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Widespread closures of day centres, and a drastic hollowing out of those left behind, are taking a vital lifeline away from elderly and vulnerable people, said UNISON today.

The union is calling on the government to face up to the crisis in care and ensure that local councils are given the funding they need to keep day care centres running. The closures are a false economy argues UNISON because they provide much needed respite for carers, as well as monitoring and improving the physical and mental health of users.

Based on a survey of social care workers, a new report by the University of Birmingham’s Health Services Management Centre for the union, reveals that 57% have seen day centres close down. Three workers knew of 30, 20 and 12 that had closed. Services for elderly people were hardest hit, followed by those for people with learning and physical disabilities. More than half said they are aware that  more changes will be made in the future, as deeper cuts to social care budgets are made.

Where day centres are not closing, two thirds say that restrictions are being placed on access to services, with 71% reporting provision has changed in the last three years. In some areas, only those with a critical need can now access day centres. Some people are being told they can no longer visit a day centre at all, whilst in others, the hours that people can come are being drastically reduced.

Two-thirds report increasing charges for attendance, meals and transport, with some centres stopping the provision of fresh meals entirely. Many of those surveyed said that these fee rises were substantial – often going from a minimal charge to as much as £50 a day. This huge hike is particularly hard for those on fixed incomes to cope with – the majority of day centre users. Trips and activities are also being drastically cut -many of which are crucial to the health and wellbeing of day care centre users.

Elderly and vulnerable people are also being moved to centres further away from home, making it difficult for them to carry on attending. As specialist day care centres close, people are being transferred into ‘multi-use’ centres – social care workers say this is particularly distressing for elderly people, and for young adults with learning and physical disabilities. Many social care workers also reported inadequate consultation with staff, parents and carers, as well as with the people who use the centres, over planned changes.

UNISON head of local government Heather Wakefield said: “The coalition’s cuts and austerity agenda are hitting some of the UK’s most vulnerable people and another round of budget cuts means this situation will only get worse.

“For elderly people, day centres guard against loneliness, their loss is devastating. Research has revealed loneliness to be as deadly as smoking, alcohol or obesity for a person’s health, so these cuts could cost lives. The cuts are also a false economy, as more elderly people will be forced into long-term care, or into A&E – a far more expensive option for the taxpayer.

“For a young person with learning or physical disabilities, a day care centre can be their main chance to build friendships and an enriching social life. As cuts close them down, families will be left to pick up the pieces, but they too will miss out on the vital respite that day centres can bring from their caring responsibilities.

“The government needs to face up to the crisis in care and ensure that local councils are given the funding they need to keep day care centres open. Spending cuts are not inevitable. There are other choices that the Tory-led coalition could, and should be taking to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”

Dr Catherine Needham, from the University of Birmingham’s Health Services Management Centre, who carried out the research, said: “Reduced access to day centres reflects the pressures of introducing personalised funding streams at the same time as making massive cuts to social care budgets. The commitment to choice and control within the personalisation agenda is absolutely right: no one should be made to attend a day centre if that is not what they want to do. But choice may be taken away from service users if a valued day centre is closed, particularly when the alternative is more time spent at home. Personalisation can’t be an agenda for empowerment and inclusion without a funding settlement that preserves both private dignity and public spaces.”

 


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