‘Devastating’ £5million cuts planned for Merton’s adult social services in bid to keep council tax frozen

Cuts of £5million to Merton Council’s adult social services were agreed by the Labour cabinet on Monday in order to keep council tax frozen for a sixth consecutive year.

Those affected by the drastic cuts include adults with learning and/or physical disabilities, mental health problems, the elderly and those combatting substance misuse.

The decision was met with condemnation from members within the Labour party as well as one of Britain’s largest trade unions, the GMB and influential charity, Age UK.

Chief Executive of Age UK Merton Charmaine Bennett said: “The cuts are devastating in their extent and in how they’re going to impact on older people.

“I know from having conversations about their impact that people are extremely worried and distressed because they’re already in very difficult positions.”

It takes a huge toll on someone who is already very unwell or very frail.”

She added: “People are very concerned that their parents and their grandparents won’t be supported in the same way.”

The cabinet’s decision to reject the government’s proposal of a 2% precept which would raise £1.7m specifically for adult social care has been met with bewilderment.

Mrs Bennett said: “We find it a very peculiar decision not to put up council tax because it will probably end up costing people more over the medium term because people will have to be using the emergency services.

“It’s a curious decision to say the least.”

The cuts will see the meals on wheels service which is currently used by 175 customers aged between 50 and 103 scrapped to save £153,000.

In dropping funding to the charity Imagine Independence, which supports 165 adults with mental health issues, the council will save £84,000.

Regional organiser of GMB Sheila Berry, said: “We are a nation who looks after our vulnerable and I reminded the councillors of that.

“That’s one of things we’re really good at doing.

“It grieves me to say that this is a Labour council but they are not taking a stand when they should be.”

Mrs Berry was also dismayed by the decision to freeze council tax and believes that Merton residents would recognise the need for a slight increase.

“Nobody wants to pay extra but this was an opportunity to raise a substantial amount of money and they turned it down,” she said.

“I think most people would be reasonably happy because these are vulnerable people.

“We are talking about elderly people who need homes and visits; we are talking about people with mental disabilities who need support.”

Mrs Berry, along with Labour Councillor Peter Walker and a number of other protesters, were seen outside the cabinet meeting holding up placards declaring “You’re Betraying Labour Values” and “Merton Labour Values RIP”.

Mr Walker, whose ward is in Figges Marsh, vocally opposes the cuts and remains true to traditional labour values.

He said: “As someone who has always been on the moderate wing of the Labour Party I find it amazing that I am now cast in the role of a rebel, with the council pursuing policies which betray the values to protect the poor and sick on which the Labour party was founded.”

Merton’s Labour group defended their decision yesterday in a statement saying that a “reward grant” of £1.3m will be used to protect the council’s services and look after the vulnerable.

Councillor Caroline Cooper-Marbiah, cabinet member for adult social care, piled the blame on a Conservative government that have been reluctant to fund social care.

She said: “The government have refused to fund social care to the tune of £4 billion across the country.

“We need long term sustainable funding not short term sticking plasters that won’t solve the problem and penalise local council tax payers, many of whom are pensioners.”

The final decision will be made on March 2 in a budget meeting at Merton Civic Centre.

Image courtesy of AgeUK, with thanks

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