Fears for vulnerable as council service cuts bite

Pressure: Coun Keith Wakefield

Pressure: Coun Keith Wakefield

HOMELESSNESS, isolation and neglect are on the rise across Yorkshire as the biggest cuts to council services in recent times begin to hit the region’s most vulnerable people, leading politicians and charities have warned.

Yorkshire residents in need of care and support in both rural and urban areas are suffering as local authorities close hostels and care homes, withdraw long-established support services and raise care charges for those in need.

With winter now approaching, charity bosses fear a fiercely cold spell could cause major problems for those forced onto the streets, and for elderly and isolated people in desperate need of support.

The warnings come as the Yorkshire Post publishes the second in a series of special reports assessing the human impact of the £1bn cuts which have been forced upon the region’s councils by the Government – focusing today on the elderly and the vulnerable.

Six months into his council’s tightest annual budget of modern times, Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council, says the pressure is now starting to show.

“It is extremely challenging to provide services, particularly to the vulnerable and the elderly, with cuts on the scale that we have not seen in this city since the 1930s,” he said.

Forced to cut spending by some £90m this year, Leeds has already closed two homeless hostels and recently confirmed plans to shut a string of care homes, forcing their vulnerable residents out into private care.

“We have closed two homeless hostels and we have had to do this in the context of the cuts made to housing benefit,” Coun Wakefield said.

“I am beginning to see more people on the streets, more people begging. There is an appearance we are going back to a time when people were sleeping in cardboard boxes, shop doorways and so on. I don’t want to exaggerate it but there’s certainly more people in that sort of situation.”

With unemployment rising, charity bosses agreed homelessness may be on the increase.

“Normally we would see a drop-off of (homeless) people in the summer, but this year it just has not happened,” said Chris Field, chief executive of local homelessness charity St George’s Crypt.

“We are prepared for a tough winter and we have been buying in extra (fold-up) beds.”

And it is not just those without a roof over their heads who are suffering. Elderly and disabled people who have long depended upon their local authority for support are seeing vital services raised in price, scaled back significantly, or disappearing altogether.

Alex Bird, chief officer of Age UK North Yorkshire, said: “In some areas it’s very noticeable that waiting lists are growing for voluntary sector services as pressures continue to grow.

“We’re hearing from a number of different organisations about pressures they are facing.

“The major concern for me is that we haven’t seen anything yet. This is still trickling through, and if we have a bad winter, for example, that’s when these pressure points are going to come to bear.”




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