Union chiefs say services for most vulnerable are ‘hanging by a thread’

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A SURVEY conducted by union chiefs has exposed services used by the most vulnerable in society as “hanging by a thread”.

The ‘speak-out’ survey of 3,000 community, voluntary and housing workers from across the UK, conducted by public sector union Unison, uncovers dangerously under-funded services leading to hardship and putting children and the disabled at risk.

Hartlepool Borough Council leader, Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, says the problem is down to savage Government funding cuts and he “lays the blame squarely at the Government’s door”.

Unison is calling on the Government to have a major rethink in its attitude to the third sector, saying its “sink or swim philosophy” is leading to a struggle for survival.

It comes after the local authority revealed that it is looking to take £1.325m from its adult services budget for 2014-15 as a result of severe cuts from Whitehall.

The council also plans to slash £268,000 from its children’s services budget.

Coun Akers-Belcher, a Unison member, said the council is trying to protect services in Hartlepool, and highlighted work to freeze school meal prices and the free swim initiative over the summer.

He added: “We are trying to do our utmost but I’m afraid when it comes to the point of losing funds, I put the blame squarely at the Government’s door.

“They cut our grant by 40 per cent and it is difficult to maintain services when we are experiencing that level of grant cuts.”

He said adults would have to make a larger contribution towards social care packages and admitted: “As time goes on, we may not be able to provide those low-level services and only be able to provide critical services.”

In the northern area survey, 82 per cent of workers in children services said they are concerned that children may be slipping through the safety net.

And 74 per cent of those working with disabled people said clients felt at risk because their care package had been reduced.

Unison regional convenor Clare Williams said services are “being cut to the bone”, with the whole third sector “reaching breaking point”.

“Ministers need to wake up to the damage and misery that their austerity drive is creating,” she added.