Council apologises for ‘rushing disabled benefit cuts through’

Nottinghamshire County Council © westbridgfordwire.com
Nottinghamshire County Council © westbridgfordwire.com

The head of social care has apologised  on a decision to increase the amount of money people with a disability in Nottinghamshire pay towards their care.

More than 800 severely disabled people in Nottinghamshire were given just days notice that the amount they pay would be increasing, in some cases from nothing to £56 a week.

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The move by the county council was described as ‘organised cruelty’ by opposition councillors.

Councillor Stuart Wallace, who represents the Newark East ward for the Conservatives, said a decision would be made in December on whether to delay the rollout of benefit cuts until February.

He was speaking at a heated and emotional summit of carers, industry leaders and people with learning disabilities, who were discussing a decision to make cuts of up to £56.55 per week from 862 people in the county.

Many of the people affected were given as little as 48 hours notice of the changes, which in some cases amount to losing around a third of their incomes.

He said: “What has happened, and we probably got this wrong we might have rushed it through and I hold my hands up to that. As the chairman it’s my fault, it happened on my watch and we may have gone a little bit too quick, but everyone has been assessed whether or not they need to make some sort of contribution.

“4,000 people, out of the 7,000 people we provide care for will not be paying anything, they weren’t before and they won’t be paying now.

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“A lot of people have written to me, rung me and complained about the speed, and having looked at the letter that went out I realise that it can frighten people off, and if we got it wrong I hold my hands up.”

He was then asked by a spectator at the meeting: “Why are you saying if? Do you agree that it has gone wrong?

Councillor Wallace then said: “I think we could have delayed it, so yes.”

He was then told by another carer: “This has been an expensive mistake.”

Councillor Wallace replied: “I will accept that.”

After taking more questions, he left before the end of the meeting, due to an earlier appointment.

Service director Paul Johnson, who is the council officer in charge of social care, also left before the end of the meeting, also due to a prior appointment.

The decision relates to how much of people’s disability benefits they are allowed to keep for themselves before it is taken from them to contribute towards their own care.

The council says the move brings them into line with other parts of the country, and that they had to fill a £54 million hole in the budget, in part because of a reduction in funding from central government.

One of the people affected was John Parrot, a retiree from Retford. He cares for his two disabled sons, who are twins.

He was given two days’ notice that the charges were going from nothing to £38 a week for each of his sons.

However, when he appealed the decision, the county council revised the charge upwards – to £43 a week, for one of his sons but not the other. They are identical twins with identical disabilities.

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He said: “It’s going to break families apart. I am fortunate with my family, but others are really struggling.”

Speaking at the meeting after Councillor Wallace and Paul Johnson left, he said: “I think its disrespectful to the people who have turned up. They have made this decision for political reasons, but now they have just fobbed us off, and they can’t even answer our questions.”

Alyson Fisk is a carer for her son, who is unable to speak in sentences. While fighting back tears, she read a message to the meeting on what she thought her son might have said about his cuts, if he had been able to speak.

Councillor Alan Rhodes is the leader of the Labour group at the county council.

He said: “I was disappointed by the lack of commitment in the apology. I was also disappointed that Councillor Wallace, who has lead this decision, decided he need to leave the meeting 45 minutes after it started.

“We are dealing with some very vulnerable people who feel like they have had to battle for everything they have achieved. I think when you are dealing with people like that you have to be sensitive, you have to be empathetic and you have to understand it from their perspective.

“I think the Conservative administration at County Hall has failed to do that at every level.”