My column from this week’s Ham & High:
A room full of older people socialising, having lunch, talking and laughing – that’s what luncheon clubs and drop-in centres deliver for our older residents.
If it wasn’t for such facilities – some older people might never even get out of their homes and wouldn’t necessarily see another living soul from one week to the next. They might not eat properly. They might not get any exercise. And as many of those who use Abyssinia Court (near Crouch End) luncheon and drop club in Haringey told me when I visited last week – if it wasn’t for this haven of warmth and friendship – they would be depressed, would fall ill and become a much greater cost than the £425,000 per year that Haringey currently spends in total on all its luncheon clubs and drop-in centres. That is an amount which totals 0.2% of Haringey’s budget of £182million. Value for money – and then some!
The £425,000 cut proposed to drop-in centres, day centres and luncheon clubs is less than the annual cost to residents for the write off of the residents’ money that the Labour Council lost in the Icelandic bank collapse.
At Abyssinia Court which provides extra care housing, assisted living, close care, continuing care housing and is run by Hornsey Housing Trust – residents and locals alike drop into the community rooms for lunch and company. They also have access to other services that visit there. There is a hairdresser, a chair exercise teacher and other services like foot care. But it is the getting out of your room or your home, the company and good, healthy food – and of course bingo twice weekly – that mean that this expenditure is not only a vital lifeline – but an investment.
So – yes – it’s a time of austerity and yes the Government grants to local authorities mean that there will have to be cuts. However, where to cut is entirely at Labour Haringey’s discretion.
Haringey Council was banged to rights in a television interview with Lib Dem Minister Andrew Stunell (Department of Local Communities – the department who award local authority grants) last week. Mr Stunell made it crystal clear in the television interview that Haringey Council is receiving 5 times more for each resident than richer boroughs – because of the greater levels of need in the borough. (Not to mention that Haringey has the fifth highest council tax in London).
The cameras had gone into Willoughby Road luncheon club when it came to light that very first in line for local Labour cuts were Haringey’s luncheon clubs. They interviewed the elderly people there who rely on it – and they certainly made it clear how vital the club was to their well-being.
But what really gets me is that Haringey seem to be ducking the hard choices. For example – if you take their Communication and Policy budget of £6million – the cuts they are proposing to that is £124,000 – peanuts!
My Liberal Democrat councillor colleagues are studying the Labour Council’s budget proposals closely currently in draft. No doubt they will be mounting a ferocious challenge to save the soft targets whilst pointing the way to Haringey on where cuts could and should be made.
Without doubt – there are tough times ahead for local authorities and they will have to make cuts and not everything can be back office (although quite a lot can). But Haringey have muddled along for years. If Haringey could only do something once and do it right – that in itself would probably save a bomb.
Local government has to make savings, but it is up to the local authority where those savings rest. Haringey Labour are going for soft targets, but I believe this drastic cut to services for older people is a very poor decision. We should protect our most vulnerable not close services they cherish.
Labour’s financial mismanagement nationally got the country into this mess (together with the irresponsible banks and our individual live now pay later attitude) and locally Labour has made it much much worse.