Thursday, April 05, 2007

Merton Council - Fairer Charging Policy suffers a setback

The minority Tory regime in the Civic Centre plans to increase Day Centre charges for almost 2,000 older and disabled residents by 1,025% from 31st April this year suffered a set-back at the Health and Community Panel meeting last night. At a packed meeting, Labour Councillors forced the Tories to reassess their decision. In an unexpected move, one Tory Councillor (Cllr Barbara Mansfield) refused to back her own side’s plans. She abstained from the vote condemning the increases, which Labour won.

A number of members of the public attended the meeting and argued that the increases were unacceptable. A local resident who would be affected by the charges explained to the panel how the charges would have a significant effect on her and her son’s life.

Labour Councillors also pointed out that consultation on the changes had been inadequate and flawed.

When questioned by the Panel, members of the Tory Cabinet including Samantha George and Margaret Brierly present were repeatedly asked to justify the increases but refused to comment. Clearly even they had difficulties defending the policy.

The Tories have decided to increase charges for using Day Centres from £4 per week to £9 per DAY – which equates to £45 per week, a 1,025% increase. They also want to charge older and disabled residents £2.50 per day for transport costs to drive them to Day Centres – where previously this was not charged for. Home Care users will also pay more – the hourly rate will increase from £12.28 to £15.48 per hour, a 26% increase.

The Tories say that the increased charges will “maximise income” for the Council. Overall, the Tories want to charge residents £0.5million more for using Day Centres and Home Care.

In terms of transport charges, the Council will also be implementing a flat rate daily charge of £2.50 for all those who use transport, at the moment it will only affects full cost clients attending day centres. Within my own ward of Pollards Hill, this new charge will affect users of the Pollards Hill lunch club who rely on Merton transport, many of whom are frail, they will be faced with a daily charge of £2.50 if this is implemented The lunch club in Pollards Hill is a fantastic service for many elderly people and provides a nutritious meal at low cost allowing them an opportunity to get out of the their house and meet other people. The people who use Merton transport to the lunch club are in most case far too frail to use public transport. If people stopped come along because of the transport charges, it will hit some of the most vulnerable people in Mitcham.

The matter now goes to the Cabinet on 23rd April for further decision, if they are implemented it will have a huge effect on many vulnerable residents throughout Merton, clearly being a caring council is a very low priority for the Merton Tories.


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