Sunday, 2 May 2010

Promoting independence? Barnet fails the frail elderly

In July 2009, around the time that they were defending their plan to cut the resident wardens from sheltered housing, Barnet's Tory administration decided
to replace the ‘Supporting the Vulnerable’ corporate priority with the more suitably titled ‘Promoting independence’.
Lynne Hillan, then Cabinet Member for Community Services, announced the change at a Cabinet meeting, saying that "Supporting the vulnerable" sounded patronising. All the user groups she had consulted agreed, she said, and were happy with the change. Given Hillan holds the purse strings, that's probably not a surprise.

If Barnet Tories are so keen on promoting independence what's this then? Barnet blogger the Barnet Bugle has drawn his readers' attention to a report in the Daily Telegraph today. It says that frail and elderly people waiting for adaptations to their homes to help them live independent lives could wait longer than six years for the change they need. Guess which council took longer than six years to make adaptations in at least one case? Which council headed the list of shame?
The average lag between an assessment of a request for help, and an adaptation taking place, was 15 months.

There were hold-ups of more than six years in the London borough of Barnet, and at least five years in Oldham, Coventry, Wolverhampton, East Sussex, Cheshire, Warwickshire and Salford.
It would be good to see more detail on this case. When someone close to me needed adaptations made they were done quite quickly, but perhaps that was because they were simple things - some rails - and because the person in question has articulate people lobbying on her behalf. Nevertheless, Barnet has a case to answer. It appears that they are falling down in their aim of promoting independence.

The phrase was always, I believe, partly simply rhetoric used to cover cost-cutting measures.

The Tories justified their plan to cut sheltered housing wardens on the grounds that the money saved would be redistributed to people choosing to stay in their own homes. Sheltered housing was disparaged as an institutional way of life that didn't suit today's modern elderly!

In fact, sheltered housing, with a resident warden, is an excellent way for people to remain independent; and sheltered housing schemes are often pleasant, sociable communities. I can't see how being isolated in your own home, with only an occasional visit from a social worker or mobile warden, is necessarily more dignified.

Barnet had better have a good story to explain away this latest embarassment. The Tories' shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley tries to put the blame on the Labour government for the failings overall, but this example has happened in our Tory-run council.

P.S. Now would be a good time to mention that the Tories, standing in the council elections, will press ahead with their plan to axe the sheltered housing wardens if they win the council. Labour and Lib Dems are committed to halting the plan. I don't know the positions of the other parties (and in the case of the BNP I don't want to know).


Rog T said...


Let me tell you the position of the BNP towards the vulnerable. If you are black, asian, chinese, european, a trades unionist, a member of another political party or in any way likely to speak out against the BNP, should they ever take power, you are vulnerable

Jaybird said...

Dear Vicki

Age Concern Barnet has a handyperson scheme. If you live in the borough and are over 60 they will do odd jobs, like installing grab rails, fixing wonky doors or changing light-bulbs for free (so that older people don't wobble around on chairs, fall off and break their hip). You do have to pay for parts. Can't do electrics or plumbing though. 020 8203 5040. Sadly, the PCT is stopping their funding to this valuable project (although we have got some central government funding to carry on).


Citizen Barnet said...

Thanks for the info, Jaybird.

"PCT is stopping their funding..." Quelle surprise?!

So much for nuturing the big society. (Sorry to go all party-political on you, I think Labour's John Lewis model is basically the same idea.)