For the past four years David Hills has got up at 8am and, after breakfast with his mum and dad, either got the bus or walked across Peterborough to the Goldhay arts centre.
Since he started at the drop-in centre in 2008 the 26-year-old has made friends, pursued his passion for music and met a girlfriend.
Five years ago, his life was very different. Hills, who lives with his parents, spent all day in bed, struggled with food and was regularly overwhelmed by depression. At one point he started self-harming.
"Goldhay has transformed me," he says quietly. "I go every day in the week and it is great."
But like thousands of people with learning difficulties around the country, Hills now faces losing his daycare support as his local council strives to make ends meet, withdrawing care services for those categorised as having "moderate", as opposed to "substantial" or "critical" needs.
In Peterborough the council says the decision, taken amid angry protests at a late-night council meeting earlier this month, will save £350,000 next year and £500,000 in future years.
But Amanda Preston, from the Peterborough Council for Voluntary Services, said the plan was putting the wellbeing of vulnerable people in the city in jeopardy.
"I don't think councillors realise how much people like David rely on the care they receive and what a devastating impact it could have on them if it is withdrawn.
"I am really worried that by trying to make savings now we are pushing vulnerable people towards a crisis point, when any savings made now will be eaten up by the care and support they will need then."
Peterborough is one of eight councils that have decided over recent months to scrap care for those deemed to have moderate care needs. Two more are considering similar restrictions. These councils are joining the vast majority who have already scrapped low and moderate care bands and instead provide support only for those deemed to have substantial or critical needs. After 1 April only a handful will still offer direct support to people like Hills. It amounts to a guillotining of the support provided by the state to vulnerable people across the country.
On average the councils that responded to the Guardian survey will this year protect adult and children services from the brunt of the cuts – but that is against a backdrop of rising demand for help and the introduction of means testing to make up the shortfall.
Nationally, social care campaigners estimate that at least 105,000 disabled people of working age will be without vital care and support by 2015 if the bar for those who are eligible continues to be raised.
According to a consortium of disability charities, many people currently receiving council help with everyday tasks such as washing, eating and communicating will be "left to fend for themselves".
"Disabled people want to live independently. But the support they need to get up, get dressed and get out and about is being squeezed due to chronic underfunding of social care," said Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope.
Adult social care accounts for about 40-50% of council spending, and as spending cuts deepen, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain levels of service as demand for care rises.
Many councils have increased charges for some care services – the Guardian survey of council cuts found 23 of the 42 councils that answered the question have introduced new charges or raised existing payments for some adult care services.
The outlook for users like Hills is compounded by cuts to other council services they rely on, such as transport, leisure and libraries. "We need to be really worried about the enormous gap between needs and resources in social care," said David Rogers, the chair of the Local Government Association's community wellbeing board.
The government is currently consulting on changes to social care that are likely to see a uniform national threshold of care set at "substantial" needs by 2015. But some councils warn that without reform of social care funding they will soon be forced to restrict services to critical only – with potentially devastating effects.
In Peterborough it is estimated 300 people are currently classed as "high moderate", and the council say all will be reassessed before their care is withdrawn in case they qualify for other care packages.
It says the cuts are needed because funds from central government have been cut by £15m over the past two years, with a further reduction of £25m expected by 2015.
Terry Rich, executive director for adult social care, said: "We believe that with the development of re-ablement and a greater focus on providing advice and guidance to people with moderate levels of need, these changes can be brought in without leaving people unsupported."
Peterborough says it hopes "preventive services" run by charities and community groups – including "developing locally based champions" and "user led organisations and support" – will step into the breach.
But the local voluntary sector is not convinced that the big society has the capacity to step in to support those people who lose care support.
In her second-floor office, Preston is unimpressed. "It is completely unrealistic, particularly as the voluntary sector is facing funding cuts and funding freezes from the city council and many have no capacity to cope with the extra demand."
Hills, who is on his way to a jamming session with friends after the interview, says he is worried about the future for the first time in years.
"I don't want to go back to where I was. If they take it away I know I will be depressed again. I won't be able to function properly. I won't eat properly."
Tuesday, 26 March 2013
Council cuts: vulnerable people could lose life-transforming social careWritten by The Guardian
Thousands of people with learning difficulties face losing daycare support if categorised as having moderate needs