If there had been a national debate on the fate of sheltered housing for the elderly, the cuts that are happening around the country could never have gone ahead!
Why? Because the vast majority of people want to retain sheltered housing and are appalled to learn that it is disappearing.
Instead, we are fighting council by council to save sheltered housing, with barely a word about it in the national press. Cuts have gone through in some areas. In some places, notably Brighton and Hove, they have been fended off. In Barnet we are still battling. On Saturday 9 May, at short notice, we organised a march of 150 through central Finchley, in the ward of Tory council leader Mike Freer.
The cuts had been announced in the proposed budget for 2009-10 as part of a package to save Barnet council money. Around 900,000 will be saved from the budget for elderly people by getting rid of 50 or so permanent wardens, most of them living on site. Instead, sheltered housing residents can be assessed, and those who are most vulnerable might be moved into a high needs scheme. Lynne Hillan, the Cabinet member for community services who is pushing through these changes has recently moved her own mother into such a home, provoking much anger.
Most residents will only have access to a new “floating support” service, with about one-quarter the staffing level that exists currently. They might get limited support for such things as filling in complicated forms or to help them through a period of bereavement. They will have to book to see a support worker for a set period each week and for a limited time.
This is nothing like the level of support they get now. Many old people will not ask for the help they need because they don’t want to be a nuisance. They will be means tested for this support, and for whether they qualify for free provision of the alarm system they all currently have in their flats.
The consultation meetings that the council held in each scheme all showed that residents value the wardens, the sense of community they foster in the scheme, the relationship they build with residents. Knowing that someone is on hand to help enables many residents to live more independent lives.
We have until the Cabinet makes its decision on 8 June to win our campaign. The council argues that sheltered housing residents are treated more favourably than other Barnet elderly people. While that’s true, it’s presumably because they have been assessed as needing sheltered housing. In any case, the answer is to level up services to the elderly, not to level down!
There is a debate to be had about the place of sheltered housing within an overall assessment of what services elderly people would ideally like. But right now we need to fight to defend this valued service.