The news that some of the most vulnerable people in one part of Scotland are set to be charged for day centre facilities is alarming and politicians were quick to express their concern over this latest depressing sign of austerity.
The Scottish Conservatives warned of a “social care crisis” in East Lothian and urged the authorities there to ensure people with learning disabilities were not “excluded from these services due to financial reasons”. The Lib Dems attacked the SNP for cuts to council budgets, saying this “inevitably leads to stealth taxes which are neither fair nor progressive” or the loss of services. Defending the move, Labour councillor Fiona O’Donnell said the East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership was facing “a very difficult period financially” and councillors did not have “the option of doing nothing”.
Scottish Care described the planned charges as “extremely sad”, pointing the finger at the Scottish Government’s “inadequate funding”. No doubt the SNP would seek to shift the blame onto the Conservative Government at Westminster.
But, regardless of who bears the responsibility, councils have been forced to make some very tough decisions in recent years and may well have to make some more in the future. No one will have got into politics with the idea of introducing such a measure, but if we as a society have reached a stage where we are prepared to countenance pricing people with learning disabilities out of social care, then this is a sad day for Scotland.
And it also raises questions about what might be next. East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership provides primary and community health care for adults in the area. If it’s going to charge people with learning disabilities now, what will it seek to charge for if its financial situation gets even worse?
The Scottish Parliament recently approved tax rises from next year – controversially using its “tartan tax” powers for the first significant time – with an extra £400 million set to go to the health budget. But the predicted revenue could be less if wealthy Scots re-arrange their finances to dodge the higher rates or if the economy takes a downturn.
The Chancellor Philip Hammond yesterday spoke of seeing the “light at the end of the tunnel” for the economy. It can’t come quickly enough – for people with learning disabilities in East Lothian and everyone else.