Protests in vain as care fees rise

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INCREASED charges for Sheffield Council’s home and day care services are to go ahead as part of efforts to save £1.45 million, despite opposition from users.

Up to 1,200 of the 5,000 needy and mainly elderly people dependent on the services will have to pay higher fees, with the current cap of £114.69 per week raised to £350.

The maximum proportion of the cost users pay for their care is being raised from 70 per cent to 100 per cent.

The decision was made at a meeting of Sheffield Council’s ruling Labour cabinet yesterday, despite consultation among service users, which found that 60 per cent opposed increased contributions.

Geoff Pick, a wheelchair-user, of Beighton, representing support group the Physical Disability and Sensory Impairment Community Forum, told councillors: “A lot of people are very frightened about what will happen if they can no longer afford to pay for their care.”

Eddie Sherwood, service director for Sheffield Council, said the extra charges would account for £1.1m of £1.4m to be saved from the adult social services budget.

The balance is to come from ‘efficiencies’.

He said: “We sent 5,000 questionnaires to clients and had a reply rate of 27 per cent, 60 per cent of whom were against raising charges.

“But most people will not be affected.”

Mr Sherwood said unless charges are raised, front line services would be hit because the council would have to make cuts elsewhere, or would have to freeze recruitment for vacancies, which would have a severe effect on the service.

Coun Mary Lea, cabinet member responsible for adult social services, said: “I understand people are not in favour of these increased charges but we are in a position where there is no alternative.

“It’s a very regrettable decision.”

Coun Lea blamed the rise on having to implement the budget set by the old Lib Dem administration, which lost power in May, and the cuts being imposed by the ‘Tory-led Government’.

But opposition Lib Dems have highlighted a predicted £497,000 surplus in the adult social care budget for 2011/12, which has since arisen despite overspending in other council departments.

Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, Lib Dem leader, said: “Since coming into power in May, Labour have decided to spend millions extra on their priorities, including £2.5 million for Park Hill.

“They could have spent the extra money on avoiding some of these care charge increases, but they have chosen not to.

“Instead of blaming other people, Labour should take responsibility for their own decisions.”