Tag Archives: elderly

Icy weather: love thy neighbour

Its very icy this week and the pavements and footpaths are horribly slippery – particularly in the shadows. Over the last 3 winters I’ve funded about 25 grit-bins around Woodbridge from my locality budget. They have been placed  in areas where volunteers have offered to help keep pavements safe. This means there ought to be one near YOU.

Gritting  Ipswich Road Woodbridge   (And if there isn’t you know why!)

Please think of your elderly neighbours and those more vulnerable than yourself, who may be housebound because of fear of falling.  Winter is not only the time for colds and flu, its also a peak time for broken bones. If – as happens in other countries – each of us made ourselves responsible for clearing the  pavement outside our house, many problems would be solved just like that!

 

Concessionary bus passes – no debate necessary?

Once again SCC Conservatives misuse Suffolk’s Cabinet system to stifle democracy.  This time, by forcing through an unpopular and unreasonable decision on concessionary bus fares for the disabled and elderly without allowing questions or debate!

Let’s face it – the easiest way to get people to do what you want is not to allow them any other option. And it does save the bother of answering awkward questions!

For the last 18 months my Lib Dem colleagues and I have been trying to increase the newly imposed restrictions on the bus pass scheme so as to offer free 24/7 transport to disabled pass holders, and travel from 9am for the elderly. Currently all pass holders are restricted to weekday travel from 9.30 to 23.00 . A tragedy for those for whom bus travel is the only option to staying at home; a farce for all of us rural folks whose buses stop in the early evening and run poorly or not at all at weekends (click here for details)

SCC Tories refer to our proposals as ‘enhancements’ and proclaim that the key issue is ‘one of budget priority’ (eg unaffordable – an argument that would be considerably more credible if we didn’t know how much they have stashed away at low interest in  reserves). In fact the issue is one of demand, of need and of legality. Using the word  ‘enhancements’ is rather cheeky. The current scheme was agreed last year and provides significant reductions to a very long term status quo.  The visually handicapped, for example,  had been eligible for free 24/7 passes since WW2!  And for many others, these passes are not luxuries. They are necessities.

SCC’s reductions to the status quo (or rather, the poor and unrigorous process by which they were arrived at) were the subject of a concerned letter from Britain’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission.  This underlined – amongst other things – the extraordinarily poor consultation and Impact Assessments Suffolk’s Cabinet had used to support their  decision-making:

‘Your decision-makers must be made aware in substance of the council’s duty to have due regard to the equality goals in the equality duties.  The ‘due regard’ must be exercised with rigour and with an open mind. It is not a question of ticking boxes.’

As many may know I’m the carer for a relative with a catastrophic health condition, and on the morning of the meeting, was confronted with an unexpected medical emergency. However I emailed four questions to be asked on my behalf. In vain. SCCs Conservative Cabinet decided not to examine its own poor  track-record on decision-making and evidence gathering – and waved their decision on Concessionary Fares through without the courtesy of any debate AT ALL.

J’y suis, j’y reste,” as the General said at Sebastapol.

This action stifled any public airing of their questionable assumptions on finances, their cavalier attitude to equality impact assessments and the shameful farce of their 12 day consultation. Just another example of how undemocratic the Conservatives want the Cabinet process to be.

Yet they could have retired from the field moderately gracefully – and with a perfectly reasonable saving of face. As the Tories’ claims about costs were made on the flimsiest of foundations, a reasonable response would be to agree to provide ‘enhancements’ to Suffolk’s 7,000 disabled pass-holders for 1 year and see how expensive this was in actuality.  Or did they not want to be proved wrong?

It is a disgrace that the disposition of such important issues  should be decided by this small group of unrepresentative individuals, who refuse to listen to reason or their electorate.

So much for Democracy in Suffolk.

Since writing this I have discovered Epilepsy Society have started a campaign for changes to the disabled persons’ pass to allow pass-holders to travel at peak times – with a companion if necessary.  (And if you have intractable epilepsy, a companion may be very necessary. ) Along with visual impairment, epilepsy is a condition where bus travel can be a lifeline – as I know from personal experience!

Shhh: Concessionary bus passes – the very QUIET Consultation

OK, the saga of Suffolk’s cheeseparing provision for bus passes for the disabled and elderly goes on and on.

Three weeks back SCC’s scrutiny committee decided that  Suffolk’s Conservative run County Council had NOT consulted fully, OR considered the impact of its decision (see here for details) when it reduced the terms of travel for Suffolk’s 140,000 passholders, 7,000 of whom are people holding disabled passes.

(And of which group I unexpectedly – about a year after this saga first started and I first got involved – became a member. Perhaps the Cabinet needs to ponder upon this. Make all your decisions about ‘them’ with care. Who knows  when ‘they’ may suddenly become ‘us’. Just saying).

I digress.

SCC  is now getting around to the consultation. And, bearing in mind it took them a full year to look at their decision the first time, they are moving pretty speedily, if remarkably quietly. So quietly that the Lib Dems  – as Councillors, as the SCC official opposition party, as the political group who asked for this to happen, and (in my own case, not only as spokesperson for Transport and representative of the elderly and disabled people of Woodbridge,  but also a disabled passholder,  and a 24/7 carer of another disabled passholder on my own account) – have been left out of the  loop completely.

I only heard about the consultation SCC is now doing for the Concessionary bus passes when it was mentioned in passing yesterday, by a spokesman for a specific disability group!

There are three elements to the consultation.

  1. A sample survey of the two user groups (that is, elderly pass holders, and disabled persons ) asking them to answer a questionnaire
    3% of pass holders eligible by age
    10% of pass holders eligible by disability
    20% of pass holders who have travel voucher;
  2. A survey monkey survey to the operators asking their experience of the concessionary fares scheme – eg. overcrowding issues ;
  3. Distribution of the questionnaire to user groups asking for comments either about the questionnaire or about the scheme itself:
    Optua
    RNIB
    Age Concern
    Outreach Youth
    Suffolk Family Carers
    Suffolk Consortium of User Led Organisations and Individual Disabled People.

Everyone else wishing to comment should do so via this email address: concessionarytravel@suffolk.gov.uk 

So, if this concerns you, don’t delay, email today.   The consultation finishes on November 9th!

 

STILL waiting for the bus..

Sometimes its really difficult to admit you have made a mistake, but this is what Suffolk County Council needs to do.

The Conservative majority must face reality and reverse their decision to downgrade the Suffolk Concessionary Fares passes for the elderly and disabled. They need to return this service to the level it was at two years ago before SCC took over the running of this scheme. WHen they took it over, SCC’s Tory leadership justified their position by saying they provided these travel passes at a little more than the ‘statutory UK minimum’. A good excuse but a bad decision. Problems of transport are notoriously more difficult and disabling for those of us who live in rural areas like Suffolk, and most other rural county councils make adjustments accordingly.

It was a whole year back that I proposed SCC’s Full Council that all time restrictions be lifted for disabled pass holders and reduced for those eligible due to age (so that their travel can start at 9 o’clock). This proposal was so sensible and neecessary that it had cross-party support and was voted in by councillors of all parties. (O, and the Cabinet too ). Yet, after a hugely disrespectful delay of a year – presumably to let the fuss die down a bit – Cabinet has turned its back on the disabled and the elderly once again.

What a surprise! Making these changes would cost the Council a whole £489,448 a year (that’s just over a penny a week from every Suffolk resident). This is happening in the year that Cabinet saved only a paltry £13m from this years pared-to-the-bone budget, to stash with the other £140m they hold in reserves.

This cannot be the end of the matter.

Any councillor is entitled to dispute (‘call-in’) this unfair decision – and this is exactly what the Lib Dems have done. Sadly, as the Cabinet member is on leave to the end of July it cannot now be looked at by the all-party Scrutiny committee until the 27 September. This is nearly 18 months after the restrictions first came into force.

Its a long time to keep on putting the pressure on – but its a vey worthy cause. The changes to Suffolk’s concessionary passes have affected 140,000 local people, 7000 of whom are disabled and are causing genuine hardship to people with few if any alternatives. It limits their access to work, health, education, training and social activities.

The Cabinet were fully aware that such a change would cost between £251,000 and £489,448 pa, a small proportion of the £13.1m that the County Council has underspent and entrusted to banks  in this financial year alone. Their decision is frankly unbelievable.

At a time of cuts I would hate to say an expenditure under £500,000 is “peanuts”. But it compares very favourably with other SCC spending decisions such as Suffolk Circle .

Reversing these changes will allow full, affordable participation in society to two valuable and poorly recognised groups of people: those who do not want to let their disability stand in the way of their achievements – and those who do not want to let their age confine them to home. Its all a matter of priorities. Do the people of Suffolk really want the Council to hoard more and more of our money in an unstable banking system – instead of investing in the people of today for the benefit of tomorrow?

Suffolk Circle – paying to be neighbourly!

As my neighbours will corroborate, if they need help, I am very happy to offer it – and if I need any, I go running to them. No money changes hands. Its about neighbourliness and a sense of community. This isn’t a purely Woodbridge characteristic – good neighbours can be found up and down the length and breadth of Suffolk and elsewhere.  Yet yesterday Suffolk County councillors   looked  at Suffolk Circle which is  a “Pay-for-good-neighbour” scheme funded two years ago by SCC to the tune of £680,000.

(I have blogged querying the basis of  this decision in both February and July 2011)

Suffolk Circle was based on a Good Neighbour scheme  that had recently started  in inner-city Southwark and had -apparently – been mentioned enthusiastically once by David Cameron.  The declared intention was to save money by building sustainable support for the increasing numbers of ‘frail elderly’ in Suffolk and thus saving money longterm.

In order to be part of the Suffolk Circle you must pay an annual membership fee (currently £30pa).  In order to use one of the helpers (for maintenance, TV, gardening etc.), or attend one of the priced events, members must buy half-hour tokens for £6 each.

This scrutiny gave everyone – that is, all non-Cabinet councillors as well as the public –  first sight of the confidential paper provided to Cabinet on the 25th of May 2010 on which Cabinet unilaterally made the controversial decision to fund the programme. This made interesting reading. (Full details here.)

Although the social enterprise could provide evidence of some satisfied users, the taxpayer would find almost all details disturbing:

  • Suffolk Circle was presented to the people of Suffolk as long-term assistance to the council’s social care budget by helping support the vulnerable elderly. However, the social enterprise assumes ‘the elderly’ start at 50 – thus including over a third of Suffolk’s population (and the vast majority of SCC councillors)!  If Suffolk Circle wait for every 50 year old to become frail and elderly they are likely to be waiting 35 years. This is a ludicrously long-term solution!
  • Suffolk Circle missed its first year membership target by over 10% – only getting 362 of 404 target members. This was itself an unbelievable modest target  for £350,000 : 363 people make up 0.16% of Suffolk’s over-50s.
  • Suffolk Circle’s target membership for next year is to achieve 1630 members, and 3500 at the end of the funded three years. This will have cost the Suffolk taxpayer just under £700,000 and ‘reached’ 1.6 % of Suffolk’s over-50s – with no guarantee that many of these would be ‘frail elderly’! And this is assuming that nobody who has joined has ever left.
  • Suffolk Circle now charges £30 per year for membership, although the original financial plan was to charge between £30 and £75 per quarter. Despite this radical shift, we could glean no information as to how this might alter the financial viability of the project.
  • At £6 per half-hour, the tokens are twice the cost of employing someone at minimum wage and the ‘helper’ is given one token for an hour’s work. The rest goes to Suffolk Circle. Outing/ social events cost a lot more than  one token (the last one in April was a cookery course costing £36 a hed) – and instead of offering a discount for theatre outings etc, we were told Suffolk Circle members actually seem to pay a premium. That is, it costs the member more than it would cost the man or woman in the street
    How could this price structure meld with the vulnerable elderly with £107 pw pension? Suffolk Circle told us they hoped to ‘get in’ on ‘Personal Budgets’. I must tell them, it didn’t have a good sound.
  • No account seems to have been taken  (either by the Cabinet who agreed this expenditure, or Suffolk Circle, who proposed it ) of the huge number of existing interest groups and services for the Over-50s AND for the ‘frail elderly’  that were already available in Suffolk.  Locally this includes: Church groups, Suffolk Carers, Royal British Legion, WI, English Country Markets, Library groups, amateur dramatics and plat readings, Good Neighbour Groups, Tea dances, Ramblers, Age UK (including their telephone befriending scheme), Wickham Market Family Carers Support Group, political parties, WRVS, lunch groups, charity work, NADFAS, WAMRAG, and groups for those interested in art, photography, music, opera, ballet, the theatre – to name but a few
  • When questioned about this, spokespeople ( I would hate to call them apologists) for Suffolk Circle, told the committee that Suffolk Circle was still “learning.”  You’d think this was part of the research and scoping SCC paid them £100,000 for  in the year before the enterprise started!

It would seem to me that this dubiously useful project is a prime example of how Suffolk County Council’s undemocratic Cabinet system is failing the taxpayer.  It allowed a few – seemingly mathematically challenged councillors –  to make an effectively unilateral decision that is costing council tax-payers of Suffolk the best part of a million pounds. And without providing any demonstrable benefit to the vulnerable elderly of Suffolk  it was supposedly set up to help. Yet in these straitened times,  the frail elderly need and will increasingly need all the help they can get.

When money is so tight this is a disgraceful example of putting the ideology of private enterprise above the common-sense of making limited resources stretch as far as possible.

And what could possibly have been the rationale? The Conservatives have been heard to say that £680,000  is “really not very much money”. They need to remember that it is is a fortune to people living unsupported and friendless on £107 a week!