Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Reading Labour - Out of Touch on Adult Social Care

Earlier this week, a neighbour pulled out of her red recycling bin a Labour leaflet which has a go at the Coalition Administration for introducing new charges for day care in Reading.

This was not an easy decision but like most things it was one we had to take after Labour failed to manage the budget responsibly when they ran the Council.

Following a detailed public consultation we agreed to phase in the introduction of charges to enable people affected time to adapt to the change.

The approach I led constitutes responsible policy-making - in contrast to blatant electioneering, on Labour's part.

In their leaflet, Labour provide readers with a guide to ‘what you could buy with £43 pounds'.

It neglects to mention that 40 % of people who receive care including day care will not  by charged under our plans – not even £5.90 they currently pay under Labour's social care policies.

This leaflet says a lot about Labour in Reading. It illustrates just how out of of touch they are when it comes to adult social care.

The fact that that Labour's menu of choices includes a meal for two at the L’Ortolan – an upmarket restaurant on the outskirts of Reading says rather more about Labour councillors' eating habits than it does about social care.

But this pathetic leaflet misses the point in two very important ways.

Firstly, it misses the point about how we are transforming and personalising social care services - something Labour failed to do when they were in charge.

Secondly, it fails to explain how Labour would fund social care when demand for services is rising.

Because if Labour didn't introduce charges for some services we can only assume they would cut services.

The Lib Dems in Reading are committed to giving all residents more choice, better services and protecting services to vulnerable people.

We view residents as individuals not passive recipients of services.

We care about meeting people's needs so they can reach their full potential - regardless of the challenges they face.

Residents are not forced to spend their personal budget or their own hard-earned cash on particular services or buy them from particular providers.

Residents are encouraged to purchase the services which give them best outcome for themselves or the people they care for.

Under our proposals, and the reforms being brought forward by the Coalition Government choice over things that really matter to people including social care lies not with civil servants or politicians but with residents themselves.

Unlike Labour, the Lib Dems locally and nationally are committed to giving local people more choice over services in future, not less.

Labour’s record and rhetoric on social care

For years when Labour were in charge in Reading the Council was run under the mantra ‘Council services are best'.

Sadly their aspiration did not result in excellent services or outcomes for residents or carers.

When I was Chair of community care Scrutiny in Reading for two years I challenged officers and councillors to provide better services following the publication of several highly critical external inspection reports by the Care Quality Commission.

It was very clear from these external inspections that for many years (when Labour were running the Council) adult social care services were lacking and did not match up to other councils.

And this - when public spending was at its height.

Adult social care services in Reading have now improved substantially thankfully.

At national level Labour ministers attempted to introduce more person-centred social care but Labour councillors in Reading resisted this as it posed a threat to their local model of 'Council knows best'.

They put politics before people.

Why? Because Labour in Reading are not interested in giving local people power and control over their lives.
Labour in Reading are just interested in power.

Hence their leaflet – another desperate attempt to win votes by attacking other parties and failing to put forward any details of how they would pay for their policies

And hence Labour's opposition to personalisation and offering residents real choice.

The most recent example of their flawed approach can be seen in relation to bin collections, when Labour councillors tried to stop the Council giving Reading residents more choice over refuse collections.

When Labour made major changes to waste collections they didn’t consult residents and the decision was made after the local elections, not before.

Why offer personalised services?

Personal budgets are about allowing people to buy services which best meet their or their families needs.

They are about allowing every individual to reach their full potential.

They are about residents getting maximum value from every pound they spend.

The Coalition Government has pledged to increase personal budgets to more people.

Because not everyone has the same needs. And the state does not always know best.

We need to trust residents to make the right decisions – with professional advice and support from social workers and trained staff.

The carer I met on Monday with Care Services Minister Paul Burstow MP explained how she had spent direct payments from the Council not on care but on a gardening because this gave her the peace of mind she was seeking.

Since her husband had suffered a stroke a few years ago gardening has become a real burden on her to the point that the couple were on the point of having to move.

Getting a gardener in has meant one less thing for her to worry about, on top of her caring role.

A few years ago buying this service would not be an option for her. She would not have had a choice.

When Labour ran the Council carers needs did not come first and carers did not get the breaks they needed.

The Lib Dems want to support carers better so we are actively investigating ways to help them increase their independence even further.

Why charge for social care?

The second reason Labour’s leaflet misses the point is that it fails to explain how they as a Party would finance social care in Reading.

The charge we have set for day care services reflects the costs they cost us as a Council to provide.

Social care services have never been free they have always been means tested.

Our day care charges compare to:

  • Around £80 pounds per day charged by Wokingham Borough Council.
  • Around £200 per day in the private sector.
Under Labour’s policies, Council Tax Payers heavily subsidised the actual cost of providing day care to people who had been assessed as being able to afford to make a contribution towards their care.

This resulted in the Council’s social care budget being overspent every single year.

Thanks to the financial mess Labour nationally have left us the Council is no longer in a position to operate on this kind of basis.

If we operated adult social are the way Labour did we would need to close other services such as libraries this year to balance the books.

But unlike many Labour councils – we haven’t closed a single library or Sure Start centre in Reading.

This is thanks to the prudent way in which we have managed the budget.

So we've learnt something from Labour's election leaflet: the Labour Party in Reading are campaigning against increasing choice and control for residents and against measures which help protect services to the vulnerable.

Bear this in mind when you come to cast your vote in Reading on 5 May.

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