All in this together?

Councillors in Oxfordshire will vote tomorrow (9th Dec) on whether they should have a 19% increase in their allowances despite facing a £11m budget ‘black hole’ ….yep! 19%…I kid you not!

As someone who works for a small charity in Oxfordshire, that supports families of people with learning disabilities – and as a one of the new co-chairs of the Learning Disability Partnership Board I was extremely angry to read about the proposal in changes to County Councillors allowances The Oxford Mail article

The argument is that the councillors need to be appropriately renumerated and this is an attempt to encourage more diversity.

We get that! – Oxfordshire is an expensive place to live and work, and we understand why councillors need to consider increasing the amount of money to cover expenses and to attract people to be councillors. I totally understand the fact that we need people from all walks of life and backgrounds to be councillors and that they haven’t had an increase for sometime… However – join the club Councillors, neither has anyone else!

The same challenges apply to people trying to deliver safe, good quality services for people who need them. Care providers in Oxfordshire have seen their contract rates frozen for a similar period of time, whilst being asked to do more for less, the buzz-phrase of our time for our social care services.

G’s had the same amount of funding in his personal budget for the last 5 years, despite inflation and higher costs (as have, I assume everyone else with a social care need). And – Personally I’ve not had a rise in my hourly rate for my work in 5 years either. We’ve all had to ‘cut our cloth’ accordingly and it’s  getting increasingly difficult for all of us to make ends meet!

To quote an article from the Oxfordshire Association of Care Providers – Chief Executive, Eddy McDowall

“….a key flaw in the independent review for allowances is that it is not in the context in which Councillors work. They are responsible for ensuring, and assuring Oxfordshire residents, that scarce public funding is well-spent. That means, to paraphrase local MP David Cameron’s 2009 Conference speech, we are all in this together, which is why…public sector wages are frozen.
We totally disagree with a double-digit pay increase at a time when the same Councillors are agreeing reduced contract prices forcing home care workers to live on less than the National Living Wage. If we have £150,000 per year to spare in the £11m ‘black hole’, there are innumerable alternate ways to spend it.
Let’s start with increasing the health and social care contract values, so that it is actually possible to pay care workers a decent wage level to maintain essential care and support services across the County. At the £14.47 average unit cost per hour that OCC price their home care contracts at (following their first review since July 2011), the Councillor allowances increase of £150,000 could provide an additional 10,366 care hours in Oxfordshire, per year. After all, you never know when you might need social care.

In addition this amount would

  • provide 30,000 hours of day support at a support ratio of 1:6  for people with learning disabilities at a cost of £5/hr – this would enable more people , many of whom receive little or no support currently, who have mild to moderate learning disabilities to have day services.
  • 70% of family  carers  who have relatives with learning disabilities are older carers using OCC day services, this could make a huge difference to elderly carers.
  • 16, 662 hours of day support at 1:3 . As a key example – this is typically what those using day services get now who have severe learning disabilities and many families no longer get 5 days per week, so it increases the strain on families. This is £9/hr. – which also demonstrates how little is actually being spent on day services for those who have been assessed as having very high levels of need.
  • It would support 3 people with severe learning disabilities needing more support, in supported living for a year.
  • It would provide a package of support that enables someone with a mild to moderate  learning disability to be in supported living, costing £500  /week  and would enable them to support 6 people for a year.

Oxfordshire county council is currently consulting on its ‘Big Plan’ for changes to learning disability services. The changes are an attempt to do things more efficiently in light of the ‘efficiency savings’ that must be made because of funding pressures. For as long as I can remember social care services have been subjected to ‘efficiency savings’…or cuts as we call them, because, let’s face it that’s what they really are! There are only so many efficiency savings that can be made before they start really impacting on people’s lives

Councillor Rodney Rose said that he expected the measure to be unpopular and that there was never a good time.

“The council has put off increases in allowances for years because it was never the right time, but what you have to accept is there is never really a right time”

OxFSN has never been a campaigning organisation. We try to work with our local council. However our role is to speak up for people who are unable to get their voice heard and give them a voice and we do feel we need to speak up on this.

So, Dear Councillors of Oxfordshire County Council

Whatever the reasons you’ve been given and however tempting these measures appear to you, giving yourselves an increase of this percentage (or any percentage actually) when everyone else is facing such difficult times doesn’t look great. Please reconsider this immoral proposal! And vote NO tomorrow!




About Oxfordshire Family Support Network

Oxfordshire Family Support Network (OxFSN) is a not-for-profit organisation run by and for family carers of people with learning disabilities – both children and adults. Oxfordshire Family Support Network (OXFSN) was set up in 2007 by family carers who wanted to use their experience to help others in the same situation, based on our belief that family carers are experts by their lived experience.
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