Social isolation – a potential lifetime of it?

  •  PaulR
  •  30/10/2015
  •  News

Spending cuts and the impact on social isolation

Last week I had an email from East Sussex County Council. The email was announcing a consultation the council are holding around the very difficult decisions they are going to be making around the Adult Social Care Budgets. This is due to the reduced funding the council will be getting from central government. This gives us some grave concerns about the ability of charitable organisations to support people on the margins of society out of social isolation.

The email was titled ‘Tough Budget Decisions – Adult Social Care’. It could also easily have been titled ‘How can we best prepare you for a potential lifetime of social isolation?’

This may sound alarmist but it’s a future that we’re looking at. It’s also in no way is this a criticism of the council, that’s the way it is.

The big picture is that over the next 4 years East Sussex County Council are going to have to cut £40M from Adult Social Care budgets. That’s from £158M to £114M in a sector that is already reeling from budget cuts.

The consultation suggests that the first services to be cut will be the preventative ones, Projects like Gig Buddies and Arts Connect. Other projects that will be affected are employment services for people with mental health support needs, housing related support for people who are risk of homelessness and drug and alcohol services. These services all save huge amounts of long-term spending from the public purse through providing preventative support. They all also serve to connect people with their communities.

How can we best prepare you for a potential lifetime of social isolation?

Projects like Gig Buddies and Arts Connect are ‘Trojan Horse’ projects. Gig Buddies might look like it’s all about going out to gigs and Arts Connect may look like its participating in making great art. But they are also so much more than that. We focus on connecting people in to everyday mainstream community life. Preventing social isolation is also not just about promoting health and well-being in individuals but also the health of the community as a whole. We are now in grave danger of not being able to provide future projects like these.

These projects also represent extraordinary value for money. Everyone we support gets at least 5 hours of free support per month, that’s 300+ hours per month. Additionally the council’s funding has enabled us to attract more funding to grow the project. Without East Sussex County Council’s initial investment we would not be here today.

In today’s news we hear that the Government has announced its intention to reduce learning disability hospitals by half. This will put even greater pressure on local authorities to support people. We therefore need to think of creative ways of releasing the capacity in communities that will enable this to happen, not shutting them off.

Sadly if funding routes like the Commissioning Prospectus get axed this is what will happen. Shutting the large hospitals really ought to be a good news story. But there also needs to be adequate investment in providing community based support for people.

How can we best prepare you for a potential lifetime of social isolation?

In writing this article it could be very easy to get political. I’m not allowed to do that as we’re a charity but there would also be no point right now. As King Canute proved, there is no way of stopping the tide so we’ve got to really think about how we can do things differently.

Complete the consultation

I would really encourage you to complete the consultation. Please also ponder on these things:

  • The value of preventative support services in relieving the pressure on the NHS.
  • How we can enable people to live more healthy lives.
  • The long-term cost of social isolation on the health and well-being of individuals.

Maybe we can also start to think more creatively and expansively about a solution to what is going to be a huge problem in just a few years. Here are some ideas for ways savings could be made in other ways:

  • How can we release the capacity that exists in the community to support people informally? How can we do this without an active and creative voluntary sector to support this?
  • More community based services which aren’t reliant on buildings.
  • Could support providers reinvent what they think of as a ‘service’?
  • Could support providers work collaboratively with other providers to share staff and resources?
  • Could there be more ways to provide a wider range of community based support?
  • Could there be membership type schemes for projects like Gig buddies?
  • Could voluntary sector organisations be given free access to use council owned property for office space and meetings?
  • Could larger providers use some of their reserves to support partnerships with voluntary organisations?

The alternative, and traditional, response to cost cutting is to create economies of scale. Inevitably this means building bigger services where more people can live with less staff. This solution appears to come more from management thinking about how they can preserve their current business model rather than the needs of the individuals living there. I’m not sorry if that sounds harsh either. It’s intended as a challenge as well need to start to think differently.

Loneliness is bigger killer than a lifetime of smoking

Social isolation is a killer. In Hillary Cottam’s TED talk she talks about “loneliness being a bigger killer than a lifetime of smoking”. That’s a staggering thought.

Please contribute to the consultation. I hope this article has helped you think about some of the issues. We’ll be working as hard as we possibly can to make sure people with learning disabilities in East Sussex do have active social lives in their communities.

Here’s the links:

There’s also an easier to read letter from the council about the process

How can we best prepare you for a potential lifetime of social isolation?

Culture Shift are also organising meetings to talk about this more:

9th Nov, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill

15th Dec, The Birley Centre, Eastbourne

Gig Buddies will also be continuing. However, our capacity to deliver it to so many people after March ’16 may be reduced.

I’m sorry to be the bringer of doom and gloom but someone’s got to say something. As many of us as possible have got to say something. Otherwise more and more misery will be piled on people with learning disabilities. We know it’s very hard for them as a group to get their voices heard.

The consultation runs until 18th Dec.


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