About three months ago I wrote to my Tory councillor, Fiona Ferguson, to ask that she vote against the 40% cut to the Supporting People grant, which funds homeless and vulnerable support services across Cornwall.
Here’s the main part of the letter:
Cornwall has some of the lowest wages in the UK, and some of the most expensive (and indeed most insecure) housing. This makes people hugely vulnerable to homelessness. The Supporting People scheme, of which the funding has remained relatively consistent for this year as the last, is now being cut by 40%. This is putting thousands of people - not just the homeless, but the elderly - at risk. With an increased homeless problem, extra strain will be put on both the police and the NHS, and will be counterproductive if the aim is to save money. Homeless people suffer significantly more health issues - both mental and physical - and are also more likely to commit crime to survive. I am asking earnestly as someone you represent to vote to save the Supporting People funding if and when it arises in a council meeting.
Well, she did eventually get back to me – three months later. I may have been a little bit scathing in my reply (thanking her for her ‘prompt response’) – but it is simply unthinkable that a near halving of the grant will ‘not adversely affect vulnerable people’. The fund is solely targeted at the vulnerable. Cutting off 40% of their support funding, will, however much ‘bureaucracy’ you abolish, adversely affect them. Even under the existing arrangements Cornwall has the second highest rate of homelessness in England, and it seems inevitable that this will increase dramatically because of the cuts.
She claims the council are having to make ‘difficult decisions’, but really, difficult for whom? Most of the councillors (an honorable few excluded) will barely be affected by these cuts. These cuts are difficult, not for upper middle-class councillors deciding what public services to slash most, but for those on the edges of society – the easy targets – those who don’t vote. The council have millions in reserves. They could have prevented this cut. And Fiona Ferguson, a highly influential Tory in the Unitary Council, could potentially have tipped the voting balance.
The cuts to the Supporting People grant will make life unbearable for many in the county. In my subsequent response, I ask her to U-turn on this decision. If not, I hope my fellow constituents will, by the time 2013 comes, realise councillors like these do not defend the interests of people in Cornwall – and, without a shadow of a doubt, local voters will act on that realisation through the ballot box.
Here’s her full response to my initial letter:
I have looked at this carefully and am satisfied that the cuts should not adversely affect vulnerable people, although they will involve some different ways of working and the reduction of margins to certain providers. Some services will be dropped altogether eg warden services for sheltered accommodation where residents do not want or need it. A great deal of work has been done with providers to safeguard this and it will be closely monitored. We are having to make difficult decisions. As this was a ring fenced budget in the past, it is clear that the council did not always get the best value for money and the cost it paid for the same service differed dramatically between providers.