BY Faryal Velmi, TGWU 1/1148 branch
Despite the biggest demonstration seen in Lambeth (in South London) for a decade and an attempted occupation of the council chambers, savage cuts to Adult Social Services were voted through on Wednesday 28 February.
The Labour-run Lambeth Council voted to cut £736,000 from the ASS budget for frail and isolated older and disabled people, adults with learning difficulties, and people with mental ill-health and carers.
Charges for homecare are to rise by 132% – from £7.55 to £17.50 an hour in May 2007 and to £20 in April 2008. Lambeth’s charges will be the highest in London. Pensioners on low incomes will be hit the most.
Vulnerable Adults who may need care provided by the council, including personal and domestic help, will only get it if they are deemed to have ‘critical’ needs. Previously those with ‘substantial’ need also qualified. Lambeth is one of only a tiny number of councils in the entire country to make this change. 700 people, 500 of them frail and older people, and many assessed as being in “substantial risk of abuse or neglect” will lose their services.
Other cuts will be to Lambeth’s voluntary and community sectors that provide vital front line services like breaks for carers, lunch clubs, drop-ins for elderly people and activities for disabled people. Many organisations face cuts of up to 50%.
Around 500 people, organised by various local voluntary sector organisations, marched to the Town Hall. But despite angry denunciations and even an attempt to storm the council chamber (which delayed the vote as the councillors fled, even if it did not stop it!), the cuts went through with the shameful support of Lambeth’s Labour councillors.
The Tories and Liberal Democrats opportunistically voted against the cuts, with the Lib Dems proposing a slightly watered down ‘alternative’ budget, which was voted down along with a request that the vote be recorded.
The Labour administration says that the cuts are due to a very low settlement from central government. Speakers at an impromptu rally asked why the government has £75 billion pounds for Trident but no money for older and disabled people, and why the council had chosen to cut the social services budget to make up for the shortfall.
Lambeth failed to fight when it had a left reputation in the 1980s, but now the transformation to an anti-working class Blairite regime is complete. One banner read ‘Labour cuts in Lambeth – Thatcher would be proud’.
Despite the mailbags of Labour councillors over-flowing with protest letters, not one single councillor spoke out publicly against the cuts or voted against them. Three councillors failed to show up for the vote and one councillor present did not vote. That’s all.
The fight back needs to continue. Trade unionists, students and service users all need to get involved in the Lambeth SOS campaign. The council cabinet meets soon. It could potentially overturn some of the cuts – but it is evident only a militant campaign will force these Blairite apparatchiks to back down.