Barnet Tory council’s decision to axe its sheltered housing wardens and replace them with a roving support service with far fewer staff was ruled illegal by the High Court in December 2009. The court ruled that in its consultation Barnet had not met its duties under disability discrimination legislation.
Now the council has put off for this year any new moves to cut the service. But it is likely that, once the elections are out of the way, they will try again, this time making sure they comply with legislation. Ninety per cent of people responding to the first consultation opposed the cuts; that figure will not fall. But Barnet only has to show that it has consulted; it is not obliged to abide by the wishes of the majority.
The campaign to stop the cuts has, thus, had a limited success. Here in Barnet our campaign coalition involves: council trade unions, which represent the wardens losing their jobs and sometimes homes; sheltered housing residents, many of them usually Tory voters; and a campaigning lawyer, Yvonne Hossacks, who is representing residents around the country in several legal battles.
Alongside the legal battle Hossacks has organised a series of protests and publicity telling the main parties to commit to retaining or reinstating wardens if they want the votes of around 500,000 sheltered housing residents and their supporters: “No wardens, no votes”.
The Labour government removed the ring fence around wardens funding, and councils up and down the country have raided the pot to fund other adult social care. Had there been a national debate and national campaign, led by the unions, the cuts would surely not be going ahead: this is a service that most people regard as valuable, and almost a national institution.
Instead, the service is suffering death by a thousand cuts, with only a valiant but sporadic campaign to defend it, waged for the most part by elderly people themselves. What it needs is some inter-generational solidarity, and the big guns of the unions behind it.
In Barnet while we are celebrating our reprieve we know it is only temporary and we are gearing up for another round of campaigning, including canvassing election candidates on their views.