Welcome to 2016 everybody, and already I can see it's going to be a year of "They're doing what?!" There were a few suggestions before Christmas last year, most notable amongst them: the scandalous social care scheming of Southampton.
As reported by the Guardian, there is a consultation open on the idea that 212 people whose social care needs cost more than £500 per week could be "supported to move from their home" if other funding could not be found. Interesting that this comes just after plans for a 95 person super care home move forward, and after a letter from Southampton council to the Chancellor pleading mercy from the impending cuts. Mercy was not granted, and so this care home will be built and filled. They saw the cuts coming and planned ahead. Savings delivered, bravo all.
Let's look for where this could go wrong. What if people don't want to be "supported to move from their home"? What if people don't want to move in with 94 complete strangers? Will they be asked to move away from their friends? Their family? Will they be asked to leave their home of 10, 20, 30 years? What happens if someone says "no"?
Legally, they have no power to remove someone from their own home against their will. They also have no right to withdraw care, as all local authorities are duty bound to provide for a person's care needs under the Care Act 2014. So what will they do if someone says "no"?
They will push their likely-already-overworked social work team to use every tactic in the book to wear down the individual, from "Maybe we could visit there together before you make your final decision, to see what it's like" and getting the manager to smile oh so sweetly, to nodding patronisingly at the individual's family members saying "It really would be for the best." Then of course, there's the old outnumber 'em in a large meeting room, look 'em straight in the eye, and talk about budgetary realities until they get bored and agree.
Some won't. Some will know their rights, and will be more trouble than it's worth. Legal representation is expensive to councils, but free under some circumstances to people with disabilities. Southampton council might have terrible ideas, but those ideas show an instinct for survival. Being dragged through the media on the back of a historic legal battle is not what they have in mind.
So this is a bluff, a game of poker that will be played 212 times over the next year. Southampton council have the experience to know when to fold. They've got another 211 chances to make a saving. They're banking on the fact that people don't have good access to information about their rights, that they won't fight back against the friendly, nodding social worker, that they can talk a person into leaving their family home without a single cross word. The deck is stacked in Southampton's favour.
Except it isn't. Evidence shows that a person given the right care in their own home stays healthier for longer, and therefore costs the NHS less money. They can also 'stay more independent for longer', which is social work speak for 'won't need even more care next year'. There is even evidence to suggest that risk of abuse may be almost twice as high in residential care as in care in the community. They're borrowing from tomorrow to pay for today (and post 2008 we all know where that leads), compromising their own futures and the futures of those who rely on them. Nobody wins.
This is the reality of the social care cuts from the November Spending Round; these are the consequences of maths done badly. So what options does Southampton have? Some of their social care users could receive the same care via Continuing Healthcare Funding from the NHS. Other than that, the best they can do is look at how to prevent future need: how to keep people healthier for longer. That means supporting independent living and supporting people in their own home, not to move them from it.
What options do people living in Southampton have? More than they might think. So long as you know what assistance you need, and why you need it, and say "no" very loudly when they ask the silly question, they cannot ignore you. They might come back again with even sillier questions, more experienced professionals, scarier looking paperwork, but keep giving them the simple answer: "no, thank you". If in doubt, your local Citizen's Advice Bureau would be a good starting point. If in deep doubt, the Disability Law Service would be high on my phone call list for free advice.
There will be 212 battles of wills this year, but I'd like to see one more. I'd like to see Southampton Council - and any other local authority driven to such counterproductive measures - make a formal complaint to the Social Care Minister, to the Exchequer, to whoever it takes to fix this. This post is the entirety of my consultation response, and in summary I say "No".