A deputation of Hampshire mums pleaded with the County Council yesterday not to cut funding for short breaks for disabled children – cuts they say will impact on 5,000 local families.
The Children’s and Young People Select committee met on Wednesday morning to consider the recommendations of a report on proposed budget reductions.
Hampshire County Council has already decided it will have to trim £26 million from the children’s services budget next year in response to a 12% reduction in funding from central government.
But a proposal to cut around 70% – almost £2million – from a service designed to bring respite to many families in challenging circumstances has been opposed by Hampshire Parent Carers Network
Sharon Smith Co-Chair of HPCN attended the meeting with her nine-year-old daughter Tanzie who has Down’s syndrome.
Prior to the meeting Sharon had told Eastleigh News how Tanzi has swimming sessions partly paid for by the short break scheme which the youngster looks forward to and enjoys.
Sharon explained that short breaks wasn’t necessarily about going away on holidays but could also provide funding for things like brownies or similar activities which gives child a positive experience while providing free time for hard pressed parent carers.
Addressing the committee Sharon said that a 67% cut was ‘disproportionate’.
“We understand the burden of cuts must be shared but disabled children are being disproportionately hit”
HPCN told Eastleigh News that the budget for fixing potholes on county roads has been trimmed by 12% while the short break scheme has taken a 67% hit.
Smith has asked the committee to protect the short break budget for two years while other funding alternatives are explored.
Cutting off funding abruptly would be “damaging” to families with disabled children she says
The committee also heard a representative from ‘Parent Voice’ another local parent carer body who said:
“The short break programme can be run more efficiently, but it needs a phased approach to funding cuts’
Also speaking was Denise Wyatt, the parent of a disabled son who is now an adult.
Wyatt spoke of the relief the short break scheme gave to parents of disabled children, who experience sleepless nights and other deprivations warning:
“Short break cuts will be counterproductive and cost more in the long run as disabled vulnerable children are driven into care.”
There was cross party support for the maintaining the short break funding in one form or another.
Lib Dem spokesperson Cllr Jackie Porter urged the council to provide a ‘cash cushion’ to help protect services.
Cllr Criss Connor for Labour asked if budget under spending could be diverted to the short break scheme adding :
“I would be prepared to prostrate myself in front of the cabinet in order to save this service “
Ukip spokesperson Cllr Chris Wood said:
“We are here to save money but we still should protect the most vulnerable”
Liberal Democrat Councillor Malcolm Wade spoke out strongly in favour of retaining short breaks and said the council should consider doing more than simply supplying just the statutory minimum.
“We (HCC) are saving millions but this is a cut too far.
I didn’t become a councilor to save money but to help people”
Councillor Wade made a recommendation that the short breaks scheme should be ring-fenced as a ‘core service’ and retained as it is now – this recommendation was defeated by nine votes to five with Ukip voting against it along with the Conservatives, both parties having their own proposals.
Ukip Cllr Chris Wood proposed that the service should be maintained at the current level but at reduced cost.
Conservative Councillor Keith Evans recommended that the cuts be deferred to 2016 – 2017 to allow time to work out efficiencies with partner organisations.
It was also suggested that cash from reserves could be used to maintain service in the interim.
Both the Conservative and Ukip recommendations were carried.
It now remains for Cllr Keith Mans, who is the cabinet lead for children’s services, to consider whether or not to put the matter out to consultation – a deiciosn he will make on Friday.
Although Cllr Mans had previously released a statement saying:
“We are no longer able to offer the same level of discretionary support to disabled children who do not meet the threshold for statutory services.”
he told the committee that he would consider all that he heard during the meeting when making his decision.
Following the meeting the campaigners seemed pleased at the level of support they had received from councilors.
Gail bedding Co-Chair of HPCN told Eastleigh News:
“It was a very positive meeting, lots of support and lots of positives. Councillors showed an understanding of the issues.”
Sharon Smith added
“This is the best outcome we could have hoped for.”
Speaking to Eastleigh News last October Hampshire County Council leader Roy Perry warned that cuts to council grant from government meant that frontline services were under threat:
“It is getting harder and harder to absorb these cuts without there being serious impact on frontline services.”
An online petition in support of the short breaks has attracted over a 1,000 signatures and can be accessed here.