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Time to rethink local budget cuts on International Day of People with Disabilities

Today is International Day of People with Disabilities, a day on which we acknowledge and promote the voice, dignity, rights and well-being of the millions of disabled people worldwide, in particular the 16% of people in our city living with disabilities. The day highlights the need to increase the understanding and awareness of issues relating to disability and thus improve the day-to-day experiences and lives of all disabled people.

Greens would like to celebrate the richer society we live in thanks to the integration of disabled people into political, social, economic and cultural life. However, a lot more work needs to be done in all of these areas to create a truly level playing field. We strongly oppose the brutal cuts imposed by austerity, which have hit the disabled hardest. The massive reductions in public spending by successive Tory-led Governments have led to huge cuts to services in our city, leaving our disabled population with a reduction in support and services.

Against the backdrop of austerity, it is vital that some of our most vulnerable residents are supported. So we were saddened to learn that the Labour Council are currently proposing to make cuts to services that support people with disabilities in the next city council budget. This includes a proposed £1.97m ‘saving’ made through changes to the community care services provided to people with learning disabilities.

The council’s own analysis of the impact of the proposed £1.97m ‘saving’, states that people with learning disabilities – especially those who are moving from children’s to adult services – could be ‘adversely affected’. This could mean delays in accessing services they are entitled to when reaching 18, such as extra benefits.

While some of the proposals look to ways to improve services, we are reminded that these ‘savings’ come on top of £2m worth of cuts made in previous years. Meanwhile, other cuts proposed in this budget – such as to community and voluntary grants, or other residential and respite options – are likely to have a knock-on effect. We cannot ignore the increasing barriers residents with disabilities are up against: lack of access, dwindling public services and punitive benefit changes have all created a vicious cycle of inequality. The financial fallout of welfare reforms on disabled people is on average 13% higher than for non-disabled people, at £2,490 per year, so we must make sure that disabled people are not further penalised beyond the cuts imposed by the heartless system.

Locally, we must also challenge the narrative behind some cuts. All too often budget reductions to services that support people with disabilities are made on the assumption that other organisations exist, and that the community and voluntary sector can ‘pick up the tab’. In October, we were saddened by the decision of the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to cut its funding to Possability People, a local charity that provides information and support free-of-charge to disabled people, their carers, friends and families. The charity’s Disability Advice Centre service is a lifeline for many people who need help with issues relating to benefits, housing, foodbanks and care, and it helped 4,468 people in 2018. Despite its impact, while Greens called on the CCG to reverse its decision, they sadly refused.

There are wonderful charities in our city – such as Amaze and the Parent Carers Council – which work hard to provide help and support to families of children and young people in the city with special educational needs and disabilities. While we are indebted as a city to them for all the work they do, we must acknowledge that the current ‘cuts on top of cuts’ policy has left charity and community groups struggling for the funding they need to support rising demand. Given this context, the council and health authorities have a key role in delivering services that help our most vulnerable to thrive.

This all shows that cutting services to disabled people or to local community groups that offer support services puts some of our most vulnerable residents in a lose-lose situation.At times of hardened, cruel benefit policy and rising poverty, it is vital that our council promotes access to services that give some of the most marginalised a voice. Last year, as part of our push for greater access to decision-making, Greens asked the council to consider how it can better support councillors and would-be candidates who have accessibility needs. We have asked for public and council meetings to be reviewed for flexibility, so that those with caring responsibilities, or who are disabled, are not excluded.But it’s services too that need to be protected and Greens want to see more done to prevent people with disabilities from bearing the brunt of budget changes and planned cuts. In an attempt to mitigate against cuts, Green work on the council’s budget last year reduced the proposed cut to residential, respite and short breaks for children with special educational needs, to day services for people with learning disabilities and cuts to the fund for community groups. We opposed the plans to end funding for the city’s only Disability Advice Centre and saw the CCG face proper challenge at the council’s Health, Overview and Scrutiny Committee.At a time when people with disabilities face discrimination, we stopped plans to cut the council’s Community Safety Team. Greens have also repeatedly lobbied the Government to halt and reverse cruel ‘back to work assessments’ and punishing Universal Credit welfare reform changes. We have also raised concerns about how the push to drive down Home to School transport costs led to major disruption for many of our disabled children and their families.

However, there is so much more that can – and must – be done by us all. At a local level, we urge the Labour administration to reach out to disabled people, community groups and other stakeholders, to ensure we do all we can to support residents with disabilities and seek their input into the latest budget. This is not just about protecting vulnerable people from the harshest cuts; it’s also about valuing people with disabilities and committing to ending inequality. While we celebrate the amazing contribution people with disabilities make to our city and to our lives, it is also a time to ask ourselves what we can do better to support residents with disabilities in Brighton and Hove.

Cllr Elaine Hills is a Councillor in Hanover and Elm Grove and a member of the Children, Young People and Skills Committee. She leads on SEND for the Green Group of Councillors.

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