CARERS are fearful for ‘desperate consequences’ as the county council gears up for a controversial overhaul of its Short Breaks programme.
From April 2019, the scheme run by Hampshire County Council (HCC) will stop funding respite activities for over-18s with special needs, swimming lessons for disabled youngsters and activities parent carers and their children can attend together.
HCC’s lead for children’s services, Councillor Keith Mans, made the decision on July 12 after a select committee heard the results of a public consultation on the proposals – aimed at saving £1m per year – which collected the views of more than 300 people across Hampshire.
Despite a HCC findings report showing respondents were ‘strongly negative’ or ‘mostly unhappy’ about the trio of suggestions, they are set to be enforced when Short Breaks is transformed next spring.
Ros Pawling from Gosport is a full-time carer and has dubbed Short Breaks ‘pivotal’ in understanding and looking after her two autistic children, aged 10 and 12.
‘Deeply saddened’ by Cllr Mans’ decision, the 42-year-old said: ‘It feels that the concerns that have been raised by affected families have been almost completely overlooked.
‘While I accept we are in an age of austerity, what the council is slashing shows a real lack of understanding of the day-to-day challenges faced by those their cuts affect.
‘I believe the 300-plus people who responded to the consultation are just a small proportion of the families who will be affected by these changes.’
The £1m HCC is looking to save through changing the programme constitutes more than 40 per cent of its £2.4m annual Short Breaks budget.
And despite HCC’s plan to report back on the impact of its cuts six months after they come into play, the decision to go ahead with them in the first place has left the county’s carers ‘hugely disappointed’.
Gail Bedding, the CEO of the Hampshire Parent Carers Network, said: ‘We are honoured to represent parent carer views in Hampshire, and we feel very deflated to learn of Cllr Mans’ decision to approve all of the proposed cuts to the Short Breaks budget.
‘As an organisation we could not have done more. We worked tirelessly to communicate to the council what our lives are really like caring for disabled children and supported them in their efforts on the short breaks consultation – reaching out to all our members across Hampshire.
‘We must now work with the authority to ensure these reforms don't have a negative impact on disabled children and their families.’
In a statement, Cllr Mans said the decision to approve the cuts ‘has not been easy to make’.
He added: ‘I am conscious the children and families this affects face particular challenges on a daily basis. However, I must ensure we are able to continue to meet our statutory duties and we can do so at a time when county council services are under pressure and finances are squeezed.’