Fight for your right to services in budget-cut Britain

As the spending axe falls, Neasa MacErlean examines ways specialist health charities and individuals can beat the system

Frank, a 61-year-old with Down's Syndrome, developed cataracts so badly that he could barely see. He was repeatedly promised an operation but repeatedly made to wait. When, however, he and specialists at the Down's Syndrome Association, started mentioning his rights under human rights legislation, he got his operation within a matter of days.

The example of Frank (not his real name) is currently a rare one but he could turn out to be a legal pioneer followed by thousands and thousands of others. Faced with cuts averaging 4.4 per cent in local government spending and a National Health Service on a flat budget, many of us are going to find ourselves turned down for services that we used to take for granted.



"There might well be a lot less money available," says Frances Woodhead, of Eversheds solicitors.



"The cuts are looming," says a Citizens Advice spokeswoman. "It's a bit of a phoney war now."



The crucial time is April next year when the main effects of government cutbacks make themselves felt across the public sector.



But the Human Rights Act injects a new set of criteria into the debate.



Under this law, public bodies have a "cast-iron legal duty", according to Katie Ghose, former director of the British Institute of Human Rights, to protect people from inhumane and degrading treatment. Even if the Government ends up dismantling the Act, as the Conservatives have proposed, the UK would still have to comply with international human rights law and with the obligations it includes.



Susannah Seyman, of the Down's Syndrome Association, worked with the British Institute of Human Rights to apply the law to help her clients. Most days she is involved in writing at least one letter to a local authority, citing either Article 3 (obligations to protect against inhumane or degrading treatment) or Article 8 (rights to a family life). These two articles, when translated to everyday living, mean such things as not leaving someone needy alone all day or requiring a housing association to let a family move home so that their daughter could participate fully in her school.



"We remind the local authorities which articles of the Human Rights Act they may be in breach of," says Seyman. "This is going to be extremely powerful in the face of all the cuts that are on their way."



She also makes an argument that many others will put forward, that preventing problems or giving swift treatment is often far less costly than letting issues deteriorate.



Speaking of Frank, she says: "They were actually making him very expensive. He was beginning to develop depression. By not providing a minimum of support, authorities can make problems very expensive."



Julie, a 46-year old who competes at international level in orienteering, had a brain haemorrhage and then a stroke in the last four years which left her without speech. But she learnt to speak again by getting to see an NHS speech therapist. Now she is back competing and also working three days a week at her old job in the National Map Centre. But this is largely only possible because she can speak very well again.



"Speech was the most important thing," she says. In the days when she was without it, she was "frustrated and angry ... it was really awful."



But there are only about 5,000 speech and language therapists in the country who deal with adults and Kamini Gadhok, chief executive of the Royal College for Speech and Language Therapists, is worried that their resources and availability to the public are being cut. "Local funders are retreating back into their silos," she says.



Speech therapy is the kind of area which straddles education and health and so it attracts small amounts of funding from different bodies. Gadhok is currently dealing with a situation where a speech therapy service is being funded by three sources, each of which is being cut back. "You are being hit three times, rather than once," she said.



Speech therapy is exactly the kind of area which could lose out in budget cuts. Providing quality of life, rather than saving lives, it is often not seen as crucial. Being preventative (especially as used to resolve early problems for children), it could be seen as being less necessary than more dramatic and better known areas of medical treatment.



But the Royal College is fighting against this, linking its campaign, Giving Voice, to the film The King's Speech which received seven Golden Globe nominations this week and is seen as a front-runner for the Oscars. Colin Firth, nominated for a Golden Globe, plays Elizabeth II's father, George VI, a stammerer who overcame his disability with the help of a therapist and was able to deliver crucial morale-boosting wartime speeches.



Even before the major cuts take place, speech therapy is a service which many doctors do not really understand and where major misdiagnoses can take place. There have been cases of people being threatened with being sent into a long-term care home who turned out to have aphasia, a condition which disconnects the ability to speak from thought processes.



Aphasia, the condition which Julie had, can be treated successfully and produce major improvements in months. People who want to see a therapist can self-refer by contacting their local hospital and asking for the speech therapy team.



With a major review of the NHS announced on Wednesday, there is concern that the situation will become more confusing as cuts coincide with further reorganisation. Sarah Lambert of the National Autistic Society is concerned that an overhaul of the special needs system will leave many parents of autistic children confused about getting education and other services for them. "We are worried that it is going to get harder," she says.



The National Autistic Society is taking steps that many other organisations will copy. "We are looking at how we can do more to enable local campaigners to become local lobbyists," she says. This week's Localism Bill shows just how decision making is moving from London to local areas. While many campaigners – including the recent student protesters – have focused their attention on Westminster, in future ordinary people will start lobbying more at their town hall.



Ways to challenge the cutbacks



1. Take advantage of free assistance offered by Citizens Advice Bureaux in the completion of forms. Everyone can benefit from help filling in forms so that they are error free.



2. Get help if you have a health condition or disability. "When people self-assess, they often overstate their ability," says Neil Duncan-Jordan of the National Pensioners Convention.



3. Put your concerns in writing, keep copies and use the Human Rights Act (see main article) if you feel you are being fobbed off.



4. Watch out for existing services being cut before the next financial year in April. Councils may decide to chop discretionary spending such as that spent on sports centres and therapeutic leisure services for particular groups.



5. Monitor the providers of services that you use. Local authorities will have to go through consultation processes on many cuts and these should be flagged up on their websites. Also consult local health scrutiny committees.



6. Start lobbying against plans to cut services as early as possible.



7. Complain or appeal if you think you have been unfairly turned down. Use the complaints procedures of local authorities and the ombudsman.



8. Try to work with local action groups who often have technical expertise, useful contacts, knowledge and skills.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Guru Careers: Tax Manager / Accountant

    £35 - £50k DOE: Guru Careers: A Tax Manager / Accountant (ACA / CA / CTA) is n...

    Recruitment Genius: Financial Administrator

    £19000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Administration Team Leader

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company prides itself on its ability to p...

    Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company prides itself on its ability to p...

    Day In a Page

    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
    What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

    What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

    Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
    Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

    Are you a 50-center?

    Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
    The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

    Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

    The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
    Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

    Hollywood's new diet trends

    Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
    6 best recipe files

    6 best recipe files

    Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
    Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

    Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

    Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Atwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works