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Originally reported in Oxford Mail 24th Feb

COUNCIL chiefs have admitted pensioners, the poor and the disabled face being hit hard by massive cuts.

In a frank assessment of planned £119m savings, Oxfordshire County Council said OAPs were at risk of greater isolation by cuts to social services and libraries.

 

Meanwhile, voluntary services, including day centres and early years education charities, could be forced to close, despite the council’s call for ‘Big Society’ groups to replace council services.

Families will have to care more for disabled and elderly relatives, it adds.

The warnings are contained in 28 equality assessments on the impact of the four-year cuts, which the council has to publish by law.

The council said the cuts would hit people but would be minimised wherever possible.

It proposed cutting the number of pensioners both in care homes and receiving care packages by letting them decide where their care cash is spent with “personal budgets”.

Yet the assessment said this means OAPs “could become more isolated”.

Financial pressures caused by the cuts could also threaten the future of day centres, including those run by charities, it adds. It calls for “innovative solutions to local issues” and more volunteers.

The council also wants community groups to take over running 20 of its 43 libraries, including Headington, Summertown and Kennington, to save £2m over four years.

No final decision has been taken on individual savings and the council has pledged to mitigate impacts wherever possible.

Council leader Keith Mitchell said: “Big Society is itself a mitigation of the impacts of cuts with communities drawing closer together and working to shape services in their area. The council is very keen to work with volunteers and voluntary groups under this new model of service provision.

“If there are difficulties for these voluntary groups we would want to try to find ways around them.”

Disability campaigner Gwynneth Pedler, 85, of Oxford Access Forum, said: “Our concern is disabled people and elderly people being left in isolation, which goes against what the current Government is saying.

“People have got to be encouraged to be more independent yet they are taking away the means of doing that.”

Age UK Oxfordshire chief executive Paul Cann said: “The financial hit that the council has had to take from the Government settlement has been huge.

“Clearly if the older people’s budget is reduced by 25 per cent over four years, that is bound to mean a significant reduction in what is available.”

WHAT THE REPORT SAID

  • Care packages: “Access to services can be a problem for some groups, notably older people who do not drive and people with disabilities.

“There may be an impact upon service users and carers in more rural areas if they are unable to access the support locally that they need and they could become more isolated.”

  • Day centres: “The implementation of personal budgets creates a financial risk for all providers of day services because they may not generate sufficient income to meet their running costs.

Providers may also not be able to recruit staff if unit costs are reduced too low and it may be difficult to sustain and market a range of services.”

  • Education and childcare groups: Reductions “could lead to closures of some voluntary sector groups”.
  • Libraries: “The local library is often a social venue as well as a resource for books and information.

“There is a risk that the loss of rural and suburban libraries could contribute towards a greater isolation for older people.”