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
Saturday 18 December 2010
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; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown
How couples can protect their financial interests when cohabiting
Child Maintenance Service to replace Child Support Agency - but is it better?
A student's guide to financial survival: You don't have to drown in debt at university
Bargain Hunter: Kit yourself out in sports gear - at a healthy discount of up to 75%
The 10 Best money-saving sites
- 1 Notting Hill Carnival: Woman shares selfie after being ‘punched in face for telling man to stop groping her’
- 2 Keira Knightley topless: Usually conservative actress does own take on #Freethenipple campaign for Interview Magazine
- 3 Daily Show's Jon Stewart destroys Fox News for its Ferguson coverage
- 4 When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
- 5 Terror threat level raised to severe as PM warns Isis risk could last for decades
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
Scottish independence TV debate: Pumped-up Alex Salmond bounces back in bruising second round against Alistair Darling
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
Ukip Douglas Carswell defection: Tory MP jumps ship to join Nigel Farage
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
- < Previous
- Next >
iJobs Money & Business
£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...
£450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...
£32000 - £38000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...
£200 - £250 per day + competitive: Orgtel: KYC Analyst, Key Banking Client, Bi...
Day In a Page
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village
A secluded seven-bedroom detached house with large private garden, £490,000
A three-bedroom cottage overlooking Sarratt village green with open fires and solid oak floors
A three-bedroom maisonette flat in a Grade I-listed, Georgian townhouse in a sought-after location
A one-bedroom apartment located within a private gated development, north of Turnham Green
Look forward to a brighter future at two-bedroom Sunny Cottages, ideal for Londoners looking to downsize
A three-bedroom red-brick cottage with outbuildings and pretty gardens, £200,000
This three-bedroom flat within a former textile factory spans the corner of the fourth floor and has a balcony