Select committees are the powerhouses of Parliament. Made up of representatives from the main political parties, they are given time, scope and resources to explore the most important issues of the day.
On 21 August 2019, the select committee for Housing, Communities and Local Government published a report about local government finance. This found that councils had received unprecedented funding cuts since the Coalition Government came to power in 2010. The report also noted that councils had not yet been informed of the levels of funding they would receive for 2020–21 and beyond, which was preventing them from planning services for some of the most vulnerable people in society.
The impact of Government cuts and uncertainty is everywhere in South Thanet, from the desperate shortage of council housing to the shedding of land and assets.
Since 2010, demand for social care has increased, but councils are struggling to fulfil their duty to provide it. This is having a knock-on effect on other services. Two separate analyses have identified a national social care funding gap of £5bn.
Nestling in the shadow of St Bartholemew’s Hospital Chapel is Wayfarers assisted living facility, the only remaining care home in Sandwich. Rated good by the Care Quality Commission, Wayfarers is clearly popular with its residents. In 2010, a consultation was initiated, aimed at finding a private buyer to run the home, and a decision was taken to limit the number of long-term residents from its capacity of 33.
By 2015, just seven permanent residents remained at Wayfarers, along with the impression that the home was deliberately being run down. At that time, a new consultation was initiated, again aimed at finding a private buyer. Sandwich Town Council did not support the sale and asked Kent County Council (KCC) to continue operating Wayfarers but was told that the local authority lacked the funds needed to maintain and modify the home.
In May 2019, when KCC had failed to find a private buyer to run Wayfarers as a going concern, yet another consultation was initiated. This time, the preferred option was to close the home altogether, with residents being relocated into private care homes outside Sandwich. A full report to the Adult Social Care Cabinet Committee on the latest Wayfarers consultation is expected on 27 September 2019 with a decision due in October.
To soften the blow of losing the only care home in the area, vague suggestions are being made that options for developing Housing with Care will be explored. Housing with Care combines independent living with need-based care and is typically suited to relatively healthy older people. It is unlikely that this would be developed in the Sandwich area and even less likely that this would be done by the local authority.
Retired people account for almost a third of the population of Sandwich. It is, quite frankly, scandalous that no provision is being made available for this sizeable older population.
The earlier consultation process was overseen by Conservative cabinet member Graham Gibbens, representing Canterbury. The Conservative KCC councillor for Sandwich, Leyland Ridings, was nowhere in evidence.
In 2017, Sandwich returned another Conservative, Sue Chandler, as its county councillor. Chandler sits on both the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee and the Adult Social Care Cabinet Committee. In the former role, she played a decisive part in the vote against referring the decision to close our stroke unit back to the Secretary of State for Health. In the latter role, she has failed to mention Wayfarers in any of the meetings of the cabinet committee she has attended and has allegedly never visited the home.
Councillor Danielle Sivrikaya, one of three Labour representatives on Sandwich Town Council, says: ‘Selling Wayfarers will mean that there is no provision in Sandwich for the elderly. Housing with Care is a good idea, but there is also a need for the more intensive care provided by a care home. I am hoping that, when making their decision, KCC will use their good judgement and invest in keeping Wayfarers open. If not, this will it cause much anxiety to residents and their carers and will also result in job losses.’
The Government has been promising a Green Paper on Social Care since 2017, but none has yet been forthcoming. The Labour Party has pledged to introduce a National Care Service which, like the National Health Service and the planned National Education Service, would protect our vital public services from political interference. Labour will increase social care budgets by £8bn over the lifetime of the next Parliament, including an additional £1bn for the first year.
In the meantime, the select committee for Housing, Communities and Local Government recommends that, ‘If HM Treasury wants local government to continue providing the services it currently does it needs to provide local government with a significant real-terms increase in its spending power’.
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