The Isabel Blackman Centre is an all-inclusive centre offering personal care and support for people over 50 with varying needs, including dementia, learning difficulties, physical disabilities and mental health support.
Situated in the Old Town of Hastings, the centre offers a safe haven which combats isolation and enriches the quality of life of those being supported. Crucially, it also provides respite for families and carers.
Affordable and healthy lunches are provided every day, a wide range of activities including arts and crafts, music, trips out and personal care if appropriate, one user of the centre said: “I would be stuck at home all the time and my wife wouldn’t get a break, it would put a big strain on her and her health would deteriorate”. Another says: “The Isabel Blackman Centre changed my life since the loss of my husband who lived with dementia for many years. The centre has given me my life back.”
Statistics for 2017/18 show that between April 1st 2017 and March 31st 2018, 1,541 community lunches were served – which does not include the day care clients – and for the same period, 102 individual clients benefitted from the day care service which equates to 4,726 sessions being delivered at the centre.
What makes the Isabel Blackman Centre unique to other days centres is that it provides all of the following:
- Personal Care
- Safe door policy
- Administration of medication
- Rehabilitation/daily exercise
- Daily cooked meal
- 7 days a week service – all year round (including Bank Holidays and Christmas Day)
- Daily activities/entertainment
There are 16 staff, seven volunteers and a ratio of 5 to 1 clients to qualified care staff.
At its meeting on June 27th East Sussex County Council’s (ESCC) cabinet resolved to agree to close the services delivered through the Isabel Blackman Centre and re-commission this care in the ‘independent sector’.
The Cabinet report reads: “The reasoning given for this decision was that there is strong local support to retain the day services at the Isabel Blackman Centre. The views of carers reflected concern at possible loss of service, quality of staff and capacity to support carers through the respite element of day services. There is a range of viable options to re-commission the day care provision currently delivered at the centre, while ensuring that the current clients continue to be properly supported. The local availability of alternative services combined with low occupancy and high unit costs means that maintaining this provision in the current format is not considered good value.
“The cabinet therefore agrees to recommission alternative services in the independent sector. This supports the strategic direction for older peoples’ day services by developing the market, challenging price and developing longer term sustainability of service provision. Implementation will deliver savings of £188,000 from older people’s commissioned day services.”
However, as there is no detailed plan for what that alternative provision will be, there is no guarantee that this so-called ‘saving’ will not be offset by the cost of commissioning.
The cabinet of ESCC is Conservative controlled. Unlike Hastings Borough Council’s (HBC) cabinet which is politically mixed, ESCC does not allow any opposition members in its cabinet. Opposition members can address the cabinet, but the actual decision making is made by the ruling group only.
At that fateful meeting in June, our local Labour county councillor, Councillor Tania Charman, made an impassioned speech to not go ahead with this draconian decision but to no avail. She brought a motion to HBC to oppose the closure and while that was adopted it was opposed by the Conservative members of HBC who were positively insulting in their condemnation of Labour’s attempts to get this inhumane decision overturned.
How can you quantify the value of a centre like Isabel Blackman, where all the evidence shows the health benefits of social contact, healthy eating, physical activity and encouragement to live independently?
In response to a national study on loneliness by Age UK, which forecasts a chronic impact on the over 50s health and wellbeing by 2026, the Local Government Association regretted the loss of services which assist older people to participate in social activities due to councils having their budgets cut by central government.
The local Labour party in Hastings is spearheading a campaign to take to ESCC. There is an online petition on the county council website and paper copies are available at community events and stalls throughout the town, they will be presented to the next meeting of the county council taking place at County Hall, Lewes on Tuesday, October 16th at 10am. We are hoping for as many people as possible to come to this meeting to make our views known.
This decision is all about money, about cuts by this Conservative government as part of their austerity strategy onto already cash-strapped local authorities and implemented by Conservative councils such as ESCC. As the Labour Leader of HBC and prospective parliamentary candidate, Peter Chowney, said: “Whether the cuts are from County Hall or Whitehall, they are still Conservative cuts”.
Please join us to try and save this invaluable service and stand up for the rights of the most vulnerable members of our society so they are treated with respect and dignity in their later years.
- If you would like to sign the petition follow this link
- Peter Hooper is Chair of East Branch Labour Party
- For further information, please contact Peter on firstname.lastname@example.org