Local mental health service users and mental health workers came together with representatives from Leeds Trades Council, Leeds Against the Cuts and two major public sector unions to lobby Leeds City Council in opposition to its plans to close mental health day centres across the city.
At present Unison is pursuing a legal challenge to these closures. The Labour-controlled council has taken the decision to close the day centres without a serious consultation with workers and service users, which is a legal requirement.
Angry opposition from local campaigners and trade unionists has meant the council has had to repeatedly push back planned closure dates while seeking legal advice over their plans.
The chairperson of the city-wide Mental Health Service Users' Involvement Group, Norman Forsythe, told Socialist Party members that the council's executive board had not consulted anyone over any detail of the planned cuts and had only set up a committee on the matter after being pressured by the campaign to consult people.
He said he felt the council had not been listening to local people's concerns and was not even questioning the need for drastic spending cuts, so the campaign was necessary to force councillors to begin to listen to people whom they would otherwise have ignored.
When asked about what effects the closures would have on local people with mental health problems, Norman pointed out that there has already been an increase in reports of attempted suicide and self-harm by service users since the announcement of the plans to cut the day centres.
These centres are essential to the wellbeing of extremely vulnerable people in the community who would otherwise have nowhere else to go where they can feel safe and comfortable and receive much needed support.
Whether or not the centres remain open is literally a matter of life or death for some service users. As well as the potential cost of lives, which is obviously immeasurable, Norman pointed out that the planned cuts do not make financial sense.
People who attend the centres have their confidence built up and learn new skills, which they can use when seeking jobs. Closing the centres, however, means that they will get less support, their health could deteriorate and they could end up in hospital or living on incapacity benefit.
The long-term cost for the local community, both financially and socially, will far out-weigh any savings that could be made by these cuts, and in fact the council has admitted that this particular cut will not make any budget savings in real terms.
We discussed the possibility of Labour councillors refusing to implement Tory cuts and instead setting a 'needs budget' like the Militant-led Liverpool City Council did in the 1980s.
Norman agreed that this would be a possibility, but also that it would only work if Labour councillors had the will to oppose cuts in the council chamber, which is clearly not the case in Leeds.
Leeds Labour councillors have been all too happy to wield the Con-Dems' axe since being elected last May and passing a savage austerity budget.
"These are Labour cuts here in Leeds", Norman pointed out, whilst also stating that local cuts are part of an overall attempt by the Tory-Liberal central government to "hammer the working people" for ideological reasons.
The fight to save the day centres continues and Leeds District Socialist Party will continue to work with local service users, mental health workers and trade unionists to oppose ALL cuts to public services, whatever party implements them, and to propose a programme for a real alternative to making working people pay for the capitalist crisis.
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