Work will need to be done to stop most in need from hitting the panic button

(12 May, 2016)

Southwark Council is now applying weekly charges to emergency alarms worn by disabled and elderly residents in care

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Since the cuts from central government were imposed, councils across the country vowed to do their utmost to ensure the most vulnerable and needy were not hit the hardest.

Yet the plan to charge some residents in need of safety alarms is coming extremely close to hitting these very people.

The fact that the elderly disabled man interviewed by us this week over residents being charged nearly £300 a year for safety alarms wanted to remain anonymous, shows just how vulnerable people in need of this service are.

The charge applies specifically to telecare pendant alarms residents wear around their necks, to use if they have a fall and cannot reach the pull-cord alarms in each room.

Often isolated and alone – depending on how well they get on with or if they indeed have family –  hundreds of elderly and disabled people in our borough are living behind closed doors, with just their home care visits to look forward to.

This silent group is extremely dependent on small things like the pendant alarms to get through each day with a modicum of reassurance that someone will be there to help them.

This is not a luxury to them but an essential service – often the difference between life and death.

It must be made clear that Southwark Council is not imposing its new £5.75-per-week charges on every person wearing the pendant, but the fact the charges are there at all goes against the very principle of the alarms.

As well as being an emergency service, on a daily basis these pendants act as a security blanket for those who really need it. The very idea of this reassurance being taken away from them will do untold damage to people who already feeling helpless and anxious.

The council has made clear that the charge is “primarily residents with savings of above £23,250” and others “may only be giving a portion of this according to what they can afford, and in some cases this means none at all”.

For those who can afford it this will not be an issue. However, the difficulty is explaining that the cord will not be cut from the most vulnerable residents using this service. Already anxious and alone, they will fear that this is the start of a creeping charge on all the essential services they current rely on.

The council announced it now faces cuts of £47 million over four years and it might be easy to sit on the sideline and criticise every saving it tries to make. But it is essential that as voters we think about whether this saving is worth the effects it might have on those often unable or too scared to speak for themselves.

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