Dear George Osborne…

Dear George Osborne

I’ve just flicked through my FaceBook feed in the hope of finding something diverting to read. Instead I found a report of a proposal by by Tendring District Council to charge people who fall over in their own homes nearly £26 for being picked up again. This annual fee would be in addition to the £23 already paid each month by people using the Careline service. According to the council, the purpose of this proposal is to avoid unnecessary ambulance call-outs which would otherwise happen automatically when someone sets off the trigger on their care alarm. Which is all to the good. But why should the person falling over have to pay for it?

There’s been an understandable outcry in response to this story. And some of the reports don’t note that the purpose of the scheme is to reduce unnecessary ambulance call-outs, which is a shame.  But the fact remains that Tendring council appear to be exploiting vulnerable people by making them pay for support most of us would regard as pretty basic – being picked off the floor.

As I write, I can hear an assortment of answers that you will have already prepared to such a story. First up is one of those neutral ‘deflect it’ ones along the lines of “Local Authorities are accountable to their electors for the decisions they make about local services”. Well yes, in theory. But as you know, that’s not how it works in practice. Local authorities are completely hamstrung by the cuts you have made to their budgets. Added to which most people don’t really care which particular authority has made which particular decision – and what’s more they probably don’t actually know. So whilst you exploit that situation by trying to play the elder statesman to the inept local politician, elderly people who have fallen out of bed have to pay to be picked up again.

The second response I can hear goes something like this: “We have given additional resources to Local Authorities to make sure the needs of the most vulnerable are met”. Well no you haven’t. You’ve just taken it out of another budget and hoped we wouldn’t notice (integrated health and social care budgets ringing any bells?). And by the way what exactly do you mean by ‘the most vulnerable’? Probably not the same thing I mean, as there isn’t enough money in the system any more to cover the people I (and most other people) might define as vulnerable.

Along the same lines is the response that ‘local authorities should be cutting back-room functions not frontline services’. Who do you mean, exactly? Those backroom people who make sure the money is being spent properly, the ones who have to fire people because the authority needs to make savings, or the ones who sit on reception dealing with the ever-growing frustrations and queries of the visiting public? Please stop dissembling. Frontline services are only efficient if they have backroom services to call on who deal with the other stuff. Can you imagine having to do without all those ‘backroom’ special advisors?

Finally there’s  the kind of response where you adopt a different tone and blame the Local Authority for a shameful decision: something like “We will hold those local authorities who do not carry out their responsibilities to the most vulnerable in society (them again) to account”. Really? How, exactly? Are you going to take away the party membership of people who actively try to punish people just for being old and frail? Or are you just hoping that we think all they need is a public telling off?

You may want to live in a world where only financially well-off people get to keep any dignity in their old age. But I don’t. And I don’t think I know anyone else who does. So please stop pretending that proposals like the one in Tendring are all someone else’s fault. Those local authorities might be wielding the paintbrush, but you’re the one distributing the paint.



One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Mandy Cook on 22 December 2015 at 5:06 pm

    Well said, Emma. You explain the consequences of the government’s financial squeeze on councils very well indeed to Mr Osborne – just in case he really has no idea of the effect of such a policy on people without immediate family, friends or indeed servants (!) It still is an absolutely disgraceful decision on the part of Tendring DC. I hope the voters rise up and oblige their Council to reverse it.


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