I met a lovely woman who we’ll call Trisha at the News Café on Tuesday, but her story worried me.
Trisha has long term mental health issues and lives in supported accommodation in Hunslet. She came along to the News Café at the suggestion of her support worker. She was looking for a social situation where she could meet some new friends. She used to meet her friends at the Potterdale Day Centre (next to Dewsbury Road One Stop Centre) but that’s closed down.
The News Café isn’t ideal for Trisha. She doesn’t ‘do computers’ so any discussion of blogging or social media is off the agenda and she didn’t think she had any news stories to tell me. But she took away a copy of our newspaper to read. If she comes back, and she’s very welcome, I think I’ll ask her about living in Beeston in years gone by.
What I found interesting about Trisha and what should be a news story is what happens to people when services are closed down.
Trisha used to leave her flat twice a week to spend time at Potterdale, to meet and chat with friends. She got stimulation and a connection with the outside world. Since the closure she’s mostly been sat in her flat, she sees few people apart from her support worker and only sees the world through her TV.
I don’t know the ins and outs of why Potterdale closed. I’m not sure if it was run directly by the council or by a third sector organisation, but it seems pretty clear that it’s been closed because of the unprecedented cuts that Leeds City Council is facing. By 2016 the council will have lost nearly half its funding from central government. It can’t make this shortfall up by putting up Council Tax, even if it wanted to, because that’s capped. It doesn’t benefit from the prosperity of the city because Corporation Tax and Business Rates go to central government.
There’s a financial crisis, but we’re not all in it together. And before we get back to day centres can I just say that I’m sick of hearing about the last government’s financial ‘mismanagement’. The banks gambled and lost and were on the point of collapse, the government bailed them out. Would a Tory government have done the same? Of course it would. Should the Labour government have reduced city regulation as much as it did? No, but when did the Tories ever tighten regulation on their friends in the city?
The current government have used the financial crisis to push an agenda of cutting state provision. They are bringing private providers into the NHS, attacking the benefits system and cutting council services. We were in a financial crisis in 1945 but that didn’t stop a government creating the NHS, legal aid and the rest of the welfare state. It’s a question of priorities.
So where does all that leave Trisha? Her story is a little more complicated because she has been told she can go to The Vale Circles centre at Tunstall Road. The problem is that she doesn’t like the Vale, she says the people are cliquey and won’t talk to her. Even though her old friends from Potterdale now go to the Vale.
I think what’s going on is that the council has ‘reprovisioned’ services. They’ve closed two buildings and ‘repurposed’ one (God I love jargon). A service is still offered to all the people who used to receive it, although it might be slimmed down. So well done Leeds City Council this is intelligent cutting, rather than just bluntly closing down services.
The problem is one of transition. People won’t necessary go along with the changes. You need to invest in change, it doesn’t come free. They have invested in doing up the Vale’s building, but the clients need people to talk to them and accompany them and settle them in. We are talking about people with long term mental health problems, many are elderly.
I’m sure we’ve all had conversations with elderly relatives encouraging them to do something new or move to more appropriate accommodation – it isn’t easy is it? My guess is that with Trisha it’s like that, but turned up to 11.
I’ll be back in next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.