Anne Novis demanded an independent inquiry into Greenwich’s social care funding

An activist who fights for the rights of disabled people has threatened Greenwich Council with legal action over social care cuts, and called for an independent inquiry into how its social care services are funded.

Anne Novis, who received an MBE in 2011 in recognition of her advocacy for disabled people, made the comments as a Greenwich Council scrutiny panel spent a second night studying plans to shave £1.6 million from the social care budget by increasing fees charged to some of the borough’s most vulnerable people.

The council says the move will make the service more sustainable and bring it into line with other local authorities, although it has been fiercely opposed by service users, their families and carers.

On Wednesday, councillors heard harrowing testimony from those who would be affected by the plans, hearing that the cuts could lead to service users taking their own lives. The decision to let the scrutiny panel hear from the public was taken at the last minute before a meeting of the council’s ruling cabinet in October, leading to uproar from service users. The meeting was then further delayed by the general election.

Among the proposals are increases to charges for disabled residents’ homecare services, an end to subsidised meals, and charging residents who can afford to pay for sheltered and supported housing.

Novis, who uses a wheelchair herself, told Thursday night’s meeting: “Our lives are being put at risk by your decisions, something each of you needs to understand and take responsibility for,” Novis said at the meeting on Thursday.

“We know more than you about what will happen. The constant fear and hurdles we face. We will keep asking questions until we get to the truth about what is going on.”

Novis claimed Greenwich would become the lowest funder of adult social care per person in the country, and said that decisions had already been made – “an illegal act which we will challenge”.

She added: “An independent inquiry is required to address those financial issues, by experts from outside this council. Refusing to do this for any reason will imply a lack of integrity and transparency which we will not tolerate.”

Referring to failings in the current service, she said: “I ask you in your role in scrutiny to speak the truth. Do not temper it to make it acceptable to your seniors, your executives or your party whip.”

Following scrutiny, the committee will recommend some minor changes for the council’s ruling cabinet to consider at its meeting on 29 January.

These will include reducing a proposed rise of homecare service charges to £15 instead of £17.50, up from the current £13.35, as well as dropping a proposal to introduce a new tariff on savings for service users.

Council officers outlined answers to questions raised on Wednesday’s meeting. Service users had asked why Greenwich could not follow Hammersmith & Fulham Council and abolish home care charges altogether; officers said that it was easier to do for the west London borough as it had received a much smaller income from home care charges than Greenwich.

Summing up at the end of two nights of meetings, Mark James, the chair of the scrutiny panel, said the current national situation with adult social care was “unacceptable”.

“I think we’ve learned a lot from this process,” he added. “Yesterday and today have shown that there is a huge number of issues that we need to address as a panel. I know that people will be extremely disappointed by what we’ve done; I think the constraints under which we are operating have been outlined, it is useful for us as councillors for service users to come in and relay their experiences.

“Officers, service users, members – none of us wanted to do this. We are in a very difficult financial position, none of us came onto the council to do this. I hope when we go forward, things will improve.”

Additional reporting by Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter.

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