Making money out of disability care? Let Barnet Tories show you how - or rather how you can’t
If you want to get a flavour of one of the most enraging and frustrating council committees’ meetings that active residents from CADDSS (the Campaign Against Destruction of Disabled Support Services) and BAPS, along with other disabled residents who use Your Choice services and their family carers had to endure – read Mrs Angry’s Broken Barnet blog.
It was so frustrating because it became clearer than ever that Barnet’s Tory councillors are putting their political agenda of privatisation and profit making over people’s well-being and lives. Over their own constituents’ well-being and lives, the most vulnerable of their constituents, those they were entrusted to safeguard and protect.
Read CADDSS response to the published report, sent to the press before the meeting.
You can read the many questions tabled by concerned family members and residents and the non-answers to them here.
And below are the Public Comments made by several of CADDSS and BAPS activists (Janet Leifer, John Sullivan, Philip Rackham & Barbara Jacobson):
Your Choice Barnet: Task and Finish Group Final Report
Public Comment Janet Leifer – Barnet resident and member of CADDSS
One of the Council’s priorities that the Task & Finish Group was asked to take into account was to “support families and individuals that need it – promoting independence, learning and well-being.” I would like to focus on “well-being” which the Oxford English dictionary defines as being comfortable, happy and healthy. Does this report accurately reflect the degree to which Your Choice Barnet services contribute to the comfort, happiness and health of the service users and their families?
The report found that Your Choice Barnet delivered services to the quality expected by its customers and independent inspectors. These findings seem to be based on visiting three services in one day, examining feedback, presumably provided by Your Choice Barnet, from service users and their families on services and proposed changes to staffing arrangements. The group chose not to speak to service users and their families directly, nor did they spend much time visiting the services. What would service users and their families have told the group about the contribution of Your Choice Barnet to their comfort, happiness and health?
I have heard families who have praised the care their loved ones receive and held the support staff in high esteem. However I have also heard a great deal of concern expressed for their future well-being and their distress resulting from changes that have already happened.
Community Space is now closed on a Friday and alternative activities are arranged at different locations that do not meet the needs of service users and sometimes result in them spending long periods outdoors in cold weather. It seems that Community Space will no longer serve as a community hub. Families are told of changes to the timetable of activities at very short notice, which affects their respite
and obliges them to rearrange their day very fast. Service users are distressed because they cannot meet with their peers and friends in their purpose built building, Community Space. Families share in their discomfort and unhappiness which is bad for their health.
Barnet Independent Living Service is housed in a building that is due for demolition in 2016. There are no plans for a new building and service users have been told they will spend time out and about in the community. They have seen a sharp decline in members and the remaining service users are in despair about what is happening to their services, as are their families.
Concerns have been expressed about transport to day centres run by Your Choice Barnet. If there is a lack of safe, comfortable and appropriate transport, how can people attend the day centres? They will be obliged to stay at home, possibly on their own. If they live with their family, their carers will be deprived of much needed respite.
The report highlights staffing changes and possible benchmarking that affects staff morale. These changes are affecting service users and have resulted on occasions in a lack of continuity of care and inadequate staffing levels, especially when service users are taken out and about.
Families have been very concerned about costs. Service users at Community Space are now charged for activities which take place at alternative venues. If they took place at Community Space there would be no charge. There is concern that Your Choice Barnet might charge VAT for day care services.
The report states that independent inspectors, that is CQC, are satisfied about the quality of care. However they only regulate Supported Living and Valley Way. No independent organisation appears to inspect, regulate and publish reports on the four day care centres, including Community Space and BILS. Who is looking at the comfort, happiness and health of the service users?
The report states that it was necessary to create Your Choice Barnet to provide services, because service users could not use direct payments to pay Barnet Council for services they provided directly. People do not have to opt to receive direct payments to pay for all services they use. If they did not opt, or were not advised, to use direct payments they could have continued to receive these services inhouse. Personal budgets do allow service users to purchase services directly from local authorities. There was no need to create Your Choice Barnet for this purpose.
What of the well-being of the service users and their families now? It seems there is no guarantee that Your Choice Barnet can provide services that will keep them, comfortable, happy and healthy, when there is little evidence that it can manage the financial difficulties it is facing, run a profitable business and maintain good quality services. Surely keeping services in house would be a much more comfortable, happier and healthier solution for service users, their families and staff.
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John Sullivan’s Comment, as read by Barbara Jacobson in John’s absence:
There are many kinds of lie – a complete untruth, a partial untruth, inaccuracy, omission – but time does not allow me to explain which category each of the following lies falls into.
The name Your Choice Barnet gives the impression people were given a choice. LIE: Barnet Council created Your Choice and foisted it on users; it did not allow them to choose to keep services in house. The brochure effectively selling this privatisation of adult social services was called More Choices (Autumn 2010). LIE: there was no choice; all services are administered by Your Choice. This brochure claimed “the services will not change, only the logo will change”. LIE: services have changed out of all proportion to what was available before. It stated that people could not use their direct payments to purchase services directly from the local authority, but made only one mention of the fact that people could choose not to have a direct payment and to have the council use their personal budget to arrange services.
Your Choice claim they have consulted parents, family carers and clients: LIE. They arranged purely informative meetings, and the leaflets about the meetings that they sent to family carers said there would be no change to services. True, attendees could ask questions at these meetings, but that is not the same as being asked for your opinion. When one parent-carer asked Troy Hennshall ‘How long can you ensure no changes ‘ , he was told ‘not longer than six months’. The LIE was exposed: ‘no change for six months’ is not the same as ‘no change’. Minutes of these meetings, which attendees had to insist on being taken, bear little relation to the actual content of the meetings. Some parents and family carers are so concerned about the future provision of Your Choice services that they have repeatedly voiced their concerns in the local press and to the Your Choice board. Some have chosen to protect their loved ones from the avarice and vagaries of the marketplace that Your Choice embodies by instructing solicitors to represent them.
Now we have the absolute farce of an investigation by members of this committee. How many of these concerned parents and family carers did this inquiry consult to ascertain what they think, feel and fear? None. These parents and carers collectively have hundreds of years of 24/7 front-line experience in this field, experience far beyond that of those on the board of Your Choice, yet this inquiry chose to ignore them. No investigation into a complex service such as this can possibly be considered comprehensive without that input.
Your Choice have claimed that no staff are having or are about to have their incomes slashed: Lie. As-and-when staff have had a huge wage cut. Skilled support workers have been demoted to a lower-paid status as assistants, a 23% pay cut, effectively forcing them out, and they have been replaced with as-and -when and zero-hour contract staff at reduced rates. The proposed benchmarking cuts to staff incomes will drive even more of the skilled staff away, to be replaced again by cheap unskilled labour. Parents and family carers know that there is no substitute for experienced and skilled staff, a view not shared by the overpaid hierarchy at Your Choice and Barnet Council, who have treated such long-term staff with contempt and disrespect, attitudes that will be hammered home when the benchmarking review is implemented.
There are many studies available that show the inextricable relationship between staff morale, quality of services and user satisfaction. But Your Choice claims ‘restructuring’, as they euphemistically call it, will have no impact on service users. Another lie.
It has been lie after lie after lie. You cannot build a future for these vulnerable folk on a lie, any more than you can build a stable home on the sand. All Your Choice services should be returned in-house at the earliest possible time, before we experience our own version of Winterbourne View.
I have read this speech on behalf of John Sullivan, a parent-carer. He wrote ‘Sadly, and hopefully only currently, my health does not allow me to read out my opinions . I have therefore asked a friend to do so on my behalf because it is vital that the lie that is Your Choice Barnet is exposed not as a misunderstanding but as a deliberate attempt to mislead.’
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John Sullivan’s Comment 2nd part, as read by Tirza Waisel
We need to uncover the truth about Your Choice Barnet - as the Task & Finish Group’s report has failed to do so.
The business plan that Your Choice Barnet was launched on - failed, yet it was, and is, claimed as a success by Councillor Rajput and the board of Your Choice.
Parents and family carers are dealing with extremely vulnerable people. Our caring councillors could not see, that attempting to make profits from these individuals is immoral and reprehensible.
And when they failed to make the profits - they claimed to justify the outsourcing. Rather than revert to an in-house service as originally promised - they launched a Plan B, predicated in many ways on the same failed business model.
The report fails to explain how financial growth will actually be achieved, and in the given time-scale.
Your Choice is a business in financial difficulty with a business plan that is again doomed to fail, reliant in many ways on the recruitment of large numbers of clients from outside the borough - which they have so far failed to attract.
Barnet Council and Your Choice delude themselves that Your Choice services are of the highest quality; but are they still really? and will they remain as good as previously - despite the demotion of staff, the big turnover and the reduction in activities and provision in the centres? Why would large numbers of people wish to travel all the way to Barnet?!
Why should these service users be made to travel out of their comfort zone, away from their community hub and friends, because the powers that be in Barnet have decided to decimate support services for the local disabled, whilst dishonestly claiming they have improved them?!
The claim that the destruction of staff morale, the cutting of their wages, the downgrading of their terms and conditions of employment, and the replacing of skilled staff with cheap labour – the claim that all these can in any way be described as an improvement in provision - is probably the biggest lie of all!
The only way we will protect the vulnerable people of Barnet from the horrors that the marketplace brings, such as Winterbourne View and Veilstone Care Home - is to bring all Your Choice services back in house ,and stop the continual ob-fus-cation, misinformation and smoke-screen attempts to hide the truth, such as this inadequate, one-sided Task and Finish Group’s inquiry, which is a whitewash and a cover-up.
This conclusion, of some four years of collective activity on the part of Barnet Council and Your Choice - demonstrates the attributes of the Pollit Bureau, rather than what is supposed to be a council founded on, and required to, adhere to the principles of democracy.
I have read this speech on behalf of John Sullivan, a parent-carer. He wrote: ‘Sadly, and hopefully only currently, my health does not allow me to read out my opinions . I have therefore asked a friend to do so on my behalf, because it is vital that the lie of Your Choice Barnet is exposed - not as a misunderstanding, but as a deliberate attempt to mislead.’
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Philip Rackham’s Comment to the Safeguarding Overview & Scrutiny Committee 27 November 2013
My name is Phillip Rackham, and I want to tell you about myself. I’m 52 years old and live alone in a flat in Whetstone. I’ve lived in the borough of Barnet all my life. I have cerebral palsy and a mild learning disability. When I was younger, I was abused physically and mentally for being like I was. When I was 34, I moved out of my mother’s house into a residential home. I then lived in different places, until I moved into a ground floor flat, where I’ve lived for eleven years. In 2001 I got married to Susie, who also had a disability. None of my family came to the wedding. Sadly Susie died in 2005, and I’ve lived alone ever since then. I used to be able to get about quite well, with no problems, mainly using buses. But a couple of years ago I was knocked down by a car, and broke my hip. Since then it has been very difficult for me to get about at all, and I have to rely on other people for transport. That means I have to spend a lot of time in my flat, on my own. So I’ve had a very difficult life. But I’m a FIGHTER. I’ve joined a lot of different organisations that have helped me stick up for myself, such as CADDSS, BAPS, Peoples’ Choice and Barnet Mencap. They have all helped me to become more confident, and stand up for the rights of disabled people. But the Council isn’t helping much. I don’t think they give a DAMN about disabled people, just like the government. I get Direct Payments, but they’re not enough. I think that councillors probably get more, just for coming to meetings. The Council doesn’t give me enough money for all the care and support that I have to have, such as cooking and cleaning of my flat, and also for getting about as much as I want and need. I used to go to BILS (Barnet Independent Living Service) which is run by Your Choice Barnet, but when I became a volunteer receptionist there, my transport was taken away, so I can’t afford to go there any more. I really used to enjoy the company I had at BILS, and I get quite lonely without it. It was an important part of my social life. Barnet don’t want the responsibility of looking after disabled people. That’s why they set up Your Choice, so they wouldn’t have to bother any more. In the end, all that it’s about is MONEY, MONEY, MONEY, which seems to be more important than caring for people. That’s why I wanted to say all this today. I’d like to finish with a question to the councillors: How would YOU feel if you were in my situation?
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Barbara Jacobson’s Comment to the Safeguarding OSC 27 November 2013
You came here tonight to scrutinize the Task & Finish Group report on the inquiry into Your Choice Barnet; the residents sitting behind me have come because they have done so and found the report wanting. The questions that have been asked and the comments that have been or will be made make three points crystal clear.
1 The Group did not investigate all the issues it sets out on page 1 of the report; specifically it did not consider evidence
• from parents and service users about their experience of the services
• or from staff and relevant groups on what impact the proposed restructure is likely to have on services.
2 The report contains no evidence for any of the assumptions, statements and recommendations it makes. Yes, there are tables about the financial plan but, crucially, no explanation of how a plan that failed the first time around will miraculously succeed on repetition.
3 The service users and their carers are worried – some of them literally sick with worry – about the future of adult social care services, about the future safety and well-being of their loved ones, and they want those services brought back in house to ensure their accountability, and the quality and continuity of care.
Points 1 and 2 demonstrate that this report, like the inquiry it represents, is disappointingly unsatisfactory. Its lack of thoroughness, which would not be acceptable in a sixth-form student’s essay, exacerbates the worries of the service users and their carers, some of the most vulnerable people in our society and in our community. These are real people, with real needs, real hopes and very real fears.
Our humanity means that each and every one of us has a responsibility to them. Family members exercise that responsibility to their disabled relatives by being carers and by fighting to protect the services their loved ones need. Those of us who are not disabled or carers for a disabled person exercise our responsibility to them by supporting their campaign, by coming here to make their voices louder so that you will hear them.
All of us here tonight, representing some who cannot speak for themselves, are asking you to examine the matter before you with empathy and the knowledge that it is your responsibility, too, to use your power to protect adults with disabilities. After all, you are the ‘safeguarding’ committee. While you might not have the power to order, as we demand, that adult social services are brought back in house, you do have the power to find that this report is only a first draft and demand further, more substantial work. And so we ask you to do that.
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After Janet Leifer’s speech (‘comment’ in the council’s jargon), we handed to the members of the Safeguarding Overview and Scrutiny committee paper copies of CADDSS plea for their common sense and compassion, which were also sent to them by email a few days prior to the meeting. Needless to say this was to no avail, as the Safeguarding committee members had demonstrated neither compassion nor common sense.
The letter read:
To: Safeguarding Overview and Scrutiny Committee
For consideration at your meeting on 27 November 2013
Dear Members of the Safeguarding Overview and Scrutiny Committee,
When you consider the final report of the Task and Finish Group concerning Your Choice Barnet Ltd. you need to take into account concerns raised by Your Choice Barnet service users and their families. Members of CADDSS, the Campaign Against the Destruction of Disabled Support Services, who have listened to their concerns, hope you will think about the serious questions highlighted by them.
What is the future of Community Space and BILS?
Families who have relatives attending two day centres run by Your Choice Barnet Ltd., Community Space, and Barnet Independent Living Service (BILS), have seen changes in activities and daily running of programmes which have caused considerable distress to service users, very vulnerable and severely disabled adults who may be in their forties or fifties and may not have family to look out for them.
Community Space is mostly closed on a Friday and holding activities in alternative venues that families found unsuitable for their relatives. We have heard of service users being taken out for long periods of time and staying outside in cold weather.
It seems that there are plans to close the building that houses BILS in Graham Park in 2016 with no plans for a replacement building. Service users want to remain together as a group and have a place to meet together and share activities in each other’s company. However, it seems these activities could soon be taking place out the protected environment of a suitable hub. BILS service users are very distressed and worried about the future.
Will there be a reliable and safe transport service?
Provision of transport to take these very disabled service users to day centres seems to be getting worse. Service users need to have reliable and safe transport with properly trained drivers and escorts so that their journeys are comfortable and safe.
Why are service users in receipt of direct payment being charged VAT?
Service users in receipt of direct payments have had their costs increased by 20% because they are charged VAT. HMRC states that in these situations service users using state regulated services are exempt from paying VAT - this applies to those using Valley Way Respite Service and Supported Living, which are regulated by CQC. Even if service users attending day centres run by YCB are not exempt from VAT (and this is an issue which needs to be checked), the local authority commissioning the service is expected to ensure the direct payment is sufficient to cover the cost of the VAT.
Who regulates the Day Centres – Community Space, BILS, Rosa Morrison, Flower Lane?
It seems very strange that services provided to vulnerable adults in great need of safeguarding appear not to be regulated by any body such as CQC or Ofsted.
How many service users, families and staff were interviewed by the Task & Finish Group when they gathered information for their report, and did they interview people from all six services run by Your Choice Barnet?
What is the effect on the services provided by Your Choice Barnet of staff restructuring, redundancies and employment of “as and when” and agency staff?
CADDSS has heard families express great concern about future provision of services, in light of the financial difficulties facing Your Choice Barnet, staff restructuring, and the other changes that are starting to be made in the way services are delivered.
Please do not ignore these concerns. They come from those you are entrusted to represent and protect, and they cause a lot of anxiety to your constituents, affecting their health and well-being. YOUR DECISION CAN MAKE OR BREAK IT.
CADDSS members will discuss the next steps in the campaign to bring Your Choice Services back in-house in their next meeting, Wednesday 4 December, 6:30 pm, at the Greek Cypriot Cenre Britannia Road N12.