Voices for Change in Glasgow North West held an excellent hustings in Drumchapel Community Centre on Thursday 26 April.
Seasoned trade unionists and community campaigners, the organisers had the event well managed with chairwoman Kate Walker keeping everyone, politely, in order.
An audience of more than 30 challenged the candidates on issues such as personalisation and support for people with learning disabilities. Personalisation is the new programme which assesses how much funding an individual with care needs requires and they decide how they will allocate that.
Each prospective candidate – or party representative – was given a few minutes to state their case then the audience piled in with their reflective questions.
First up was Stuart Maskell of the UKIP. He was honest about his lack of experience in social care service issues and was appreciative of being invited to the hustings. He recommended seeing the film The Iron Lady. ‘It isn’t about a Prime Minister, it is about a woman with dementia. Alzheimer’s is expected to affect 1 million residents of the UK by 2022 – only ten years from now,’ he said. ‘That is a worrying problem.’
John Docherty of the SNP explained his background of the Fire Service for 30 years and now his work for an SNP MSP. ‘We will work across the sectors,’ he promised. He took notes of various situations raised by individuals in the audience and said he would follow through on finding out what could be done in each person’s circumstances.
Judith Fisher for the Scottish Labour Party agreed Personalisation was a ‘huge change,’ but added: ‘We believe it is a fairer system.’ She also mentioned the party’s plan for more child care hours and for the creation of jobs alongside the existing successful apprentice scheme.
Spokesperson for the Scottish Socialist Party, Sandra Webster, pointed out that carers save the government an estimated £10 million a year. ‘But they are still only being paid lip service,’ she added.
Ronnie Stevenson who is a candidate in his own ward of Langside was from the Scottish Anti-Cuts Coalition. ‘People should have care according to their needs,’ he contended. ‘But that is not happening. I’ve seen social workers in tears because they are not allowed to give the service care they know that individual needs. They have been told – here is how much can be spent – and that’s all they’re getting!’
He also warned that if people think it is hard just now with the cuts it will get very much worse in the next two or three years. ‘That’s why the Scottish Anti-Cuts Coalition wants to get more people into Councils across Scotland. We don’t want any more cuts.’
Most of the audience had first hand experience of cuts in social services. Said one woman who works closely with the social work department: ‘A man I know, with learning difficulties has had his budget cut from £78,000 a year to £44,000. He can’t go out anywhere now and just sits watching tv.’
A support worker with 50 people on his list, told the meeting that every one of the people he knows who has completed the process to personalisation has had massive cuts in their funding. ‘I think they started with services users with learning disabilities first, because they would meet less resistance from them. It is very unfair expecting a person who has reading and writing difficulties to fill in a self assessment form of many pages. That person, and those who care for them, are getting very stressed.’ He also questioned whether anyone in the city had qualified for 100% personalisation package. ‘It is a terrible process,’ he commented.
Alan Gow who was a Voices for Change host at the top table, moved into the audience to make his personal statement: ‘There is no proper engagement with citizens and carers. There has to be proper discussion and decent, moral involvement to ensure carers are genuine partners in care. They are not, right now.’ He said plans were made ‘behind the scenes,’ Followed by a one day ‘consultation,’ in a ‘fancy hotel room’ then it was ‘all over.’ He continued: ‘The choice is take this or that and it is said with a smile. But what the people are really saying is don’t cut my budget, that’s my wages. The political parties are not listening!’ he concluded forcefully to loud applause from the audience.