Elderly are bearing the brunt of the cutbacks, new research finds
A lifeline for vulnerable people is in crisis, according to research looking at the extent of day centre closures.
A survey of frontline social care staff uncovered a picture of widespread closures of local authority day centres, and a drastic “hollowing out” of those left behind. It reflected the erosion of an important service for the elderly and disabled, who otherwise can be isolated at home, said Dr Catherine Needham, who led the research, which was commissioned by Unison from the University of Birmingham’s health services management centre.
The survey found 57% of workers in social care in England and Wales reporting day centre closures. More than half also said that they were aware of impending closures. Where centres have not closed, their scope has been reduced – two thirds of respondents reported that access to services had been restricted. In some areas, only those with a critical need now have access to day centres. Services for elderly people have been the hardest hit, followed by those for people with learning and physical disabilities.
Needham pointed to there being a real danger that “shared spaces” for vulnerable people might disappear completely. Her report concluded: “There needs to be effective action to address the funding crisis in social care. The changes reported here reflect a context in which short-term austerity cuts are destabilising a system already facing a long-term crisis.”
The effects on ordinary families can be enormous. One man told the Observer that his 29-year-old daughter, who suffers from a neurological disorder and needs full-time care, was paying for five days a week at a day care centre out of her personal budget allowance. But while the cost has remained the same, he said, some services have disappeared.
“They took them out for activities – things like the hydrotherapy pool, which the doctors recommended and, as she is in a wheelchair, was vital to keep her limited mobility intact,” he said. “All that has gone. Before the cuts, our local authority had nine day care centres; now they have four. They are all herded under one roof – the people with learning difficulties, the disabled and old people with dementia, all different ages and different needs lumped in.
“I have nothing against old people – I’m in my mid-60s myself – but it’s distressing for the younger ones. My daughter cannot talk, but we can see from her behaviour – how much more she cries and how more disrupted her sleep is – that she is in distress.
“There is no reduction in how much it costs but all the activities are gone – where is the money going?”
Two thirds of workers reported substantially increased charges for attendance, meals and transport, with some centres stopping meals entirely.