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Wales disability support cuts: People experiencing 'real distress'

January 31, 2019 6:37 PM
By Paul Martin in https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-46961292

A woman who cares for her severely disabled brother has said funding cuts have negatively affected her life, as pressure to change the system grows. Jayne Newman, from Newport, said she was given "no reason" for a loss of support, which saw 15 hours of care for her brother Tommy cut.

MP Ian Lucas said changes to support for people who used to get a special grant were causing "real distress".

Newport council said Mr Newman received a "generous" support package. The Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) was introduced in Wales to replace the UK-wide Independent Living Fund (ILF), which was closed down by the UK government in 2015.

But WILG is being scrapped and the funding and responsibility for more than 1,000 people who received it transferred to Wales' 22 local authorities, leading to fears of cuts to support. Official documents, seen by the BBC, show that 157 people out of 1,174 assessed by their councils had their support reduced.

Ms Newman, whose brother lives with her, said she was given "no reason" for the cuts of 15 hours per week, which equates to paying a carer for an overnight stay and five hours of day care. "He needs total care, so he needs to be washed, dressed, shaved," she said. "He is now on a liquid diet which means it's a bit like having a baby, we've got to give him hourly feeds to maintain his weight and wellbeing. As long as somebody is there he doesn't really understand whether it's me or one of the carers, so he doesn't understand that the cuts have made a difference to my life. It's like I have to be in every night by nine o'clock. I still want to have a life as well as look after my brother. They said they would work with you and not have it done to you and that's not what happened."

    But Newport council said it has been "working with" Ms Newman since the reassessment 18 months ago. It also insisted Mr Newman's care package was "over and above" what he would have been allocated as a new case. A spokesman added: "Although certain elements of the original package of care have been removed, they have been replaced with a more flexible package. "There has been no significant reduction in the overall level of care that has been provided to the extent that it no longer meets his eligible needs."

    The minster responsible for overseeing the transition from WILG to council-run support, Huw Irranca-Davies, left government in December in new First Minister Mark Drakeford's reshuffle. His replacement as deputy minister for health and social services, Julie Morgan, called for a review of the policy while on the backbenches, and Mr Drakeford said during his leadership campaign changes would be made if people were losing out.

    Mr Lucas, the Labour MP for Wrexham, suggested a possible solution could be for those who have lost out to apply for a top-up from Welsh Government. "I don't think we're going to have the same scheme that we had previously but I do expect a big improvement in the scheme as it exists at the moment," he said. "I think this is causing real distress for people who need help.

    We know that local authorities are under a lot of pressure and I don't think they're the right people to be administering those schemes."

    Welsh Government emails seen by BBC Wales Live show government officials were told by a "number" of councils that "the overall cost of the support provided to people who have transitioned (to council funding) is more than the WILG funding transferred (from the Welsh Government to councils)".

    And the new data, sent by the government to Save WILG campaigner Nathan Lee Davies, shows marked differences between different councils. Newport reduced the support of 10 of the 19 people it assessed while the figure for Wrexham was 24 out of 58. But neither Anglesey nor Monmouthshire reduced any care packages - having assessed 53 people between them.

    In a letter to Mr Davies, Julie Morgan said councils claimed the reductions have not impacted on people's "ability to live independently in the community". Mrs Morgan will meet with Mr Davies on Thursday. The Welsh Government said it was "reviewing progress rigorously to achieve a fair outcome" for all.

    "It is paramount that a person's ability to live independently is not compromised by the change in the way care and support is arranged for people previously in receipt of the WILG," it said. It added all money had been passed on to councils, and none had been reclaimed despite the number of eligible recipients falling.