Sheffield protest over changes to service for people with learning difficulties

TV presenter Jane Irving and Unison Regional Organiser Charlie Carruth with protesters outside Sheffield Town Hall
TV presenter Jane Irving and Unison Regional Organiser Charlie Carruth with protesters outside Sheffield Town Hall
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Protesters gathered outside Sheffield Town Hall to campaign against changes to services for people with learning disabilities as a debate triggered by a 5,000-signature petition was held.

Sheffield Council is taking bids for new ‘supported living’ contracts at nine homes for people with learning disabilities.

The Unison trade union has opposed the move, which it says puts 150 NHS jobs at risk in five of the homes in Handsworth, High Green, Woodhouse, Arbourthorne and Grimesthorpe.

A petition was handed in at Sheffield Town Hall with 5,000 signatures - enough to force a debate at a full council meeting yesterday - which said the services were being ‘auctioned off to the lowest tender’.

Television presenter Jayne Irving, whose younger sister Cathy, aged 55, lives in the Handsworth home, said: “The most vulnerable people in the city are being picked on - people who literally can’t speak for themselves.”

Cathy has Down’s Syndrome and disabilities which mean she cannot walk or talk.

Jayne, who used to present breakfast shows on TV-am, said: “She relies on carers knowing her very well. Overnight they are going to disappear and be replaced.”

Coun Mary Lea, the council’s cabinet member for health, care and independent living, previously said the council was ‘looking at quality first’, as well as taking ‘value for money’ into account. She said supported living offers ‘more flexibility’ for people to choose daily activities.

But Jayne said: “These homes are full of people who are very severely disabled. The notion of them having a choice is ludicrous.”