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Posted on 6 February 2012 at 17:42 GMT

Marching in Chatham against closure of Balfour Centre, 4.2.12 , photo P. Walker

Marching in Chatham against closure of Balfour Centre, 4.2.12 , photo P. Walker   (Click to enlarge)

Defend care services in Medway

Jacqui Berry, secretary of Medway Against the Cuts

Up to 100 disabled service users, staff, carers and anti-cuts campaigners marched through a bitterly cold Chatham on Saturday 4 February.

We were marching against Medway council's plans to close down the Balfour Centre, which provides day care services to disabled adults.

The council also plans to privatise its only three in-house care homes; Robert Bean Lodge, Nelson Court and Platters Farm.

The council claims that since the introduction of Direct Payments (money given to those in need of care to purchase it privately, rather than through the council, which cannot be used to access council run services) the numbers attending the Balfour have fallen dramatically.

This flies in the face of the experience of the staff, who are fully booked and providing up to 90 dinners a day.

The council refuses to release the real figures as it says it would go against the Data Protection Act.

Council officers also claim that the cost of providing care could be reduced by 200 a month per resident if Robert Bean, Nelson and Platters are given over to the private sector.

What they either fail to recognise or wilfully disregard is that there is a reason the private sector would provide care so much cheaper, whilst still turning a profit for the shareholders.

It is because the private sector cuts corners. The quality of care, especially for the facilities providing specialist dementia care, would suffer dramatically.

Reports of private sector nursing homes indicate higher instances of pressure ulcers, malnutrition, poorly managed incontinence, abuse and neglect.

Staff in private nursing are generally paid lower wages with poorer terms and conditions, to provide care on a shoestring budget.

Privatisation in care often ends up putting a strain on the NHS too. When residents in private care homes become acutely ill and develop more complex needs, they become more costly to private providers to look after. So private care homes often put up huge resistance to taking residents back again.

All this, and the fact that the users of the Balfour Centre will be left with nowhere to go appears to be lost on the council.

They have provided Balfour attendees with a list of alternative day services, many of which are up to 30 miles out of the area, or are provided by Age Concern. The Balfour Centre is a service for working-age adults!

Marching in Chatham against closure of Balfour Centre, 4.2.12 , photo by P. Walker

Marching in Chatham against closure of Balfour Centre, 4.2.12 , photo by P. Walker   (Click to enlarge)

Over the 60 day (including Christmas) consultation process, hundreds of staff, service users, carers and anti-cuts campaigners have turned out to meeting after meeting to voice their opposition to the proposals.

Far from growing disheartened and allowing services to slip away, opposition has grown stronger. On 4 February Medway Against Care Service Cuts was launched.

Thousands of petitions have been signed and there is a mood of determination to force the council to back down.

At the last public consultation meeting, council officers were clearly rattled. Councillor Brake, the portfolio holder for Adult Social Care, was present but despite members of the public requesting he comment, he remained silent.

However, it will take more than shouting loudly at public consultation meetings to force the majority Tory council into retreat.

Marching in Chatham against closure of Balfour Centre, 4.2.12 , photo by P. Walker

Marching in Chatham against closure of Balfour Centre, 4.2.12 , photo by P. Walker   (Click to enlarge)

We need to exert real pressure on councillors, we need to embarrass them in the press, we need to demand that they open up the books on Balfour, Robert Bean, Nelson Court and Platters. If they really are such poor value for money, then prove it!

The elephant in the room is that this is nothing to do with the quality or the uptake of these services and everything to do with the council merrily carrying out the Con-Dems' pro-cuts, pro-privatisation agenda.

Some councils claim they have no choice but to make cuts due to reductions in funding from national government, as much as it pains them.

Where councillors want to fight the cuts, Socialist Party members urge them to set 'needs budgets' - no cuts budgets, to fight central government for their funding back and to build a mass campaign of support amongst the local government unions and the community.

In Medway, this is not the case. The reduction in funding from national government has given the council an opportunity to close the Balfour (which has been attempted several times before) and to privatise all remaining council run nursing homes in Medway.

Medway Against Care Service Cuts is petitioning, holding lobbies, press stunts and the Broken Hearts Demo at the council cabinet meeting taking place on Valentine's Day.

Service users, staff and carers are refusing to roll over and become victims of the bankers' and bosses' crisis.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 6 February 2012 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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