Human cost of care changes

IT would be churlish not to acknowledge the steps being taken to prevent the duplication of key services like care of the elderly. Removing costly management structures will lead to significant savings.

Yet, once this process is complete, the consequences for some of the most vulnerable members of society are still grim – a combination of day centre closures and increased charges for services like meals-on-wheels.

Leeds Council is not alone. It is likely that these unpalatable measures will be replicated across the region, and will particularly hit those authorities that are home to an above-average number of senior citizens.

The council, however, is one of the first to reveal the human cost of its proposed cuts and how savings, involving numbers that are unfathomable to many, will impact upon key services.

Three points need to be made.

Is it fair that people, who have saved money for their retirement, should be charged for services that will remain free to those who have made inadequate financial provision for their old age? The notion of fairness is one that needs to underpin any changes.

Second, there is every likelihood of increased disparities in the quality of care offered by neighbouring authorities, and the nature of the agreements that they strike with private sector providers. Having promised to abolish the "postcode lottery" over access to cancer drugs and such like, there is every likelihood that it will return with social care, especially if councils have different spending priorities.

And, finally, the very challenging spending decisions being taken by local councils make a mockery of the coalition Government's assertion that NHS spending has increased on its watch. While the headline figure has, indeed, risen marginally, this is more than offset by the size of the community care cuts that are now having to be implemented and Ministers should have the courtesy to admit this.

The need to save money is understood. What has not been justified, however, is the imposition of cuts that will penalise those who worked tirelessly throughout their lives, and paid their taxes, in the expectation that the State would treat them with dignity in retirement.

Where's the fairness in that?