Sunday, 2 December 2018

War on the Poor & Vulnerable

The last week in Barnet must seem to some like a war on the poor and vulnerable. On Monday the Adults and Safeguarding Committee looked at cuts to their budget. These included:
  • Cuts to adult social care staffing which, as the report identifies, "has the potential to impact on service delivery where capacity is reduced, such as longer waiting times".
  • Putting clients into residential care rather than offering community-based placements when cheaper to do so. The report acknowledges that "some clients and their carers / families, may consider this change unfavourable if they have a preference for a community placement". But who cares as long as it is cheaper.
  • "Maintaining affordable levels of inflation on care and support packages while continuing to meet statutory duties" for which read cuts to care provider costs. The report acknowledges that, "As this could impact providers' ability to provide services, there could be an impact on customer satisfaction". The reality is that to deliver this objective it will need squeeze the pay of frontline care staff , some of the lowest paid staff in Barnet who are already struggling to live on poverty wages.
  • "Increased use of universal services, enablement, telecare, adaptations, equipment and direct payments which cost less than traditional home care and residential care....This might include support from volunteers and local clubs, for example".  The report acknowledges that "some users/relatives may still prefer traditional care and find creative options less palatable" So get volunteers or charities to pick up yet more of the services.
At the Housing Committee they discussed moving 950 council homes to their Open Homes Organisation which is more akin to a housing association. The Council acknowledges that rents will go up but they will take a premium from Open Homes which will generate £650k a year. Personally it looks social cleansing to me.  A number of years ago Barnet scrapped open waiting lists and now only help those people with the highest house needs - you can read it here. This proposal will wait until a Council property becomes empty, either the tenancy comes to an end or the tenant moves out. The council will then transfer these properties into Open Homes. The rents in these properties will be significantly higher than council house rent and up to 80% of the market rent. According to the latest GLA figures published on 18 October 2018, the median borough wide market rent for a 3 bed property is £1,798 so 80% of that is £1,438. Even if you are in a working household that is a great deal of money especially if you are in low paid employment. This looks like a plan to run down genuinely affordable rents to a point where the only council accommodation will be temporary to meet statutory needs and that may be outside the borough. This meets the aspirations of certain councillors who would like to see only rich residents in Barnet.

At the schools forum on Tuesday they discussed three options facing Barnet schools

  1. A proposal to fund some services, previously funded from the Education Services Grant, from the budget shares of maintained primary and secondary schools.  the impact of this cut would be approximately £32/pupil
  2. A proposal to increase De-delegation from maintained school budgets in order to continue the school improvement (LNI) service in its current form.  The impact of this would be a cut of £11.28 per primary school pupil and £5.83 per secondary school pupil.
  3. A proposal to transfer 0.5% of the Schools Block to the High Needs Block. The impact of this this varies by school  but for my local primary school is would cut their budget by £25,490

We know that wealthier parents can employ tutors for their children. I recall just how many kids had tutors when my children were in primary school and how we had to use tutors again in secondary school because of prolonged periods without a permanent teacher in certain subjects meant our children were falling behind. Cuts to budgets will impact the least advantaged children  who simply can't  afford tutors. Barnet make great credit of the performance of pupil in our schools but just look at little harder and you will see that the children who are not performing well are in the poorest groups . Examples include the percentage of disadvantaged pupils achieving the ‘expected standard’ in Reading Writing & Maths (RWM) or the percentage of pupils with an Education, Health and Care Plan37 or statement of special educational needs achieving the ‘expected standard’ in RWM. Cuts to school budgets will just hurt these disadvantage children even more.

On Thursday a consultation on changes to the Council tax support system closed. This looked at the amount of discount people who are on benefits receive on their Council Tax bill. There may be an assumption that people on benefits get all their council tax paid but that has not been the case for a while. Barnet have used the introduction of Universal Credit to change the discount and rather than make the new scheme cost neutral, they have taken the opportunity to cut £3.2 million from the support budget. This means that if you earn just £10/month on top of your benefits you will have to pay 48% of your council tax. The full schedule is below.  This is just going to push even more of the poorest 20,000 people in Barnet further into poverty.
Add all these elements up and it looks like a war on the poor and vulnerable. They seem to be shouldering a disproportionate burden of the budget cuts which seems unjust and inequitable. More worryingly it does look like a concerted strategy to purge the borough of the most disadvantaged making Barnet a borough for the fit, healthy and wealthy only. It also seems to mirror the national government's plan to demonise and punish the poor. These are very bad times.

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