Monday, 16 March 2009

Barnet councillors: go and hear for yourselves what elderly residents think about ending wardens for sheltered housing

I was privileged this evening to attend a consultation meeting in one of the elderly sheltered housing schemes threatened with losing their onsite warden. Barnet council wants to save about 75% of the money they currently spend on such wardens, and instead spend £300k on a floating warden scheme, that people can phone up when they have a problem. Gone will be the system where each morning an onsite warden goes around to check on all the residents in their scheme.

There are 1,500 residents in about 50 schemes in Barnet. The new proposals would mean the number of wardens dropping from about 40 to perhaps less than 10 - in any case, only as many staff as could cover 150-200 people at any one time: 10% of the coverage there is at present.

There are also proposals regarding provision of alarms. Residents pay a fee for the equipment, and a separate fee for the monitoring service - someone centrally who could answer an alarm call. There are proposals to means-test the provision of alarms and to provide it only to those who pass a medical test that says they need it, ignoring the fact that elderly people's needs change - usually they require more help as time passes, not less!

The format of the meeting was that for one hour council staff from the Supporting People Team were given the poisoned chalice of attempting to loyally represent the wishes of the council to cut the service at the same time as trying to organise a consultation process that fairly reflects the views of the residents.

For the second half of the meeting - I couldn't stay for this - an outside consultant worked at recording residents' views.

The biggest demand I can think of immediately with regard to the proposed warden cuts is that councillors themselves should turn up to the consultation meetings and hear residents and their friends and relatives talking about what having wardens means to them. And if they then want to go ahead and cut the service, councillors themselves should explain it to residents. It's outrageous making council staff do this dirty work for them.

Most of the residents had turned up to the consultation meeting. They were mostly very articulate. Many had come armed with arguments about where the money could better be saved from: councillors' own allowances, Icelandic bank deposits...

They talked about how just knowing there was an onsite warden lessened their need for other services; some talked about falls they had suffered or witnessed where the warden being available saved them further distress. They talked about how the warden saw to it that there was a social life in the scheme, parties and so on. The warden knew all the residents...

I could go on and on about their testimony - but it would be best if Barnet residents go themselves to visit these places and get in touch with the residents to hear it. This can't be left to be a paper consultation alone that touches the lives of only those immediately affected, and is sifted through by council officials alone, before the councillors inevitably wield the axe at their meeting in June. This is an issue and a fight for the whole community...

The council is trying to make propaganda out of the fact that 2% of Barnet's elderly are living in these schemes, and implying that they are somehow privileged over other elderly Barnet residents.

It almost certainly is the case that more money should be spent on other elderly Barnet residents. However, as a representative from the housing scheme I visited tonight said, the people accommodated in these schemes have been assessed as needing the services they provide. No amount of a desire to save money on the part of the council can change that fact, and no amount of shabbily playing off one needy group against another.

The six-week consultation period for this proposal ends on 31 March 2009. See the documents online here. Get involved in the campaign to stop the axing of the warden service. How do you do that? Well, sign this petition begun by Barnet residents, for starters. And watch this space...

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