• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Boycott by carers is biggest regret, says service group

The replacement of day centres for people with disabilities in Glasgow is supported by research and by many charities.

SUPPORT: Tony Young, a representative of People First, said people with learning difficulties need more choice and control over their lives. Picture: Mark Mainz
SUPPORT: Tony Young, a representative of People First, said people with learning difficulties need more choice and control over their lives. Picture: Mark Mainz

The public social partnership (PSP) model being used to work out what goes in the place of three centres that are closing is said to be admired by John Swinney, the Finance Secretary, who would like to see the same approach used much more widely across the country.

Yet the PSP has been boycotted from the start by the majority of carers in the city who fear being left with nothing, and say those they care for valued what they got at the city's day centres.

The lack of love for the PSP may not be helped by its name. Members acknowledge that the jargon is unwieldy. What is it? The best the partnership's members could come up with when I went along to meet them recently was "a vehicle for designing services".

As a result, the PSP has been given a more user friendly badge, The Life I Want.

Currently sitting around this controversial table is the city council, whose decision to close three day centres has caused such anxiety. Its representatives are joined by charities such as Enable Scotland, Quarriers and Neighbourhood Networks who provide services direct to families, and other charities such as Values Into Action Scotland (VIA), who represent people with disabilities but do not themselves provide services.

The intention is that the partnership will devise new services replacing the old day centre model, services requested, chosen and built by disabled people themselves.

There is little doubt that many people were unhappy with the standard day centre model for providing activities and social interaction for people with disabilities. Day centres, according to members of the PSP, involved ferrying large numbers of people on buses, to buildings with limited activities on offer for a limited amount of time.

Instead, people should be allowed to choose what they want for themselves, according to members of the PSP. At present a one-size fits-all model gives the impression that people have to accept what they are given.

Yet, if it were that simple, families would plainly be falling over themselves to support it. The problem is people with learning disabilities and their families and carers are suspicious and feeling threatened already by cuts and welfare reforms.

A vocal and very angry carers lobby has made it clear that they don't think the day centres should shut until something firm is in place. Many are also worried about the budgets they will be given to buy services in this brave new world.

Debbie Miller, Glasgow City Council's personalisation commissioning manager says those with fears over funding should be reassured. "The amounts in budgets will be linked with people's care needs," she says. The point is that previously it wasn't. Other members of the PSP suggest savings from the existing model will help pay for budgets.

"There was huge waste in day centres," explains Margaret Wheatley Enable Scotland's head of campaigns. "They hired buses to take people around in huge groups of up to 40 people. Those people spent lots of time on buses, and the costs of buildings were enormous. In the future 85% of the costs will go on staffing, rather than buildings or buses."

She might be expected to be positive about this agenda. She was until recently in charge of developing Glasgow City Council's personalisation plans.

But Ms Wheatley is supported by John Dalrymple, director of Neighbourhood Networks. "This is in the mainstream of the direction of travel for services, away from the bigger congregations of people in day centres towards more involvement in everyday life," he says.

However he admits: "I don't think any of us is relaxed about the political or financial settlement for people with learning disabilities. But working this way gets the most out of the limited resources that are there."

There is also support from some existing service users. Tony Young is a member of the advocacy group People First and in a statement on behalf of other members who use one of the centres slated for closure, he said: "We are happy and excited by the progress over the last few months. What we want to see people with learning difficulties get out of this project is more choice and control over their own lives and the decisions they make. The important feature of the Life I Want is that people with learning difficulties ourselves are right at the heart of it."

Speaking of his own situation, he said: "I went to a day centre and I felt trapped. I went three days a week and had limited choices about what I did there. I want more freedom to do stuff out in the community. Being told what to do is not the life I want."

The truth is that only a limited number of the 520 people affected by the closures or their carers have been fully consulted about the changes. That process will begin early in the new year, which will also see the publication of research carried out by the PSP on what services people want, and the evidence supporting its approach.

There will be findings to publish too, from assessments carried out by a number of "quality testers", people with learning disabilities who have been evaluating the services on offer from organisations signed up to the PSP.

The carer boycott still plainly troubles the group. "We don't have any carers groups represented on the PSP and that is our biggest regret," says Ms Wheatley. "We can understand why they feel so threatened at the moment."

Ms Miller adds: "Carers have a key role to play. We really do want them on board."

But with both sides pretty entrenched, it is hard to see that happening.

In the meantime, the process continues. The Life I Want will mean huge changes for charities, both Quarriers and Enable admit, with both having to adapt what they provide to meet the demands of the individuals who will control their own budgets.

If it works it will put pressure on those providing services to improve them, and will provide people with the chance to avoid frustrations such as the often rapid turnover of staff providing care.

Innovative ideas are being seen elsewhere in the UK- Glasgow is leading on this in Scotland, but similar policies are well advanced in England. These can help make the best of limited budgets. In Richmond, service users have pooled their budgets to fund an artistic social enterprise. Families can combine relatively small budgets to move up from respite weekends to full-blown group holidays, Mr Dalrymple suggests. Ms Wheatley agrees: "If 10 people with small budgets pool them, to design and commission something they wanted, they could really potentially do something exciting."

Much depends on the assessments currently being carried out to determine the level of need of former day care users. But the next few months should help establish whether what Glasgow is devising really is the life people with learning disabilities want.

Contextual targeting label: 
Consumer electronics

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.