`THIS CAMPAIGN IS ABOUT SAVING LIVES…'
"Speaking as a service user I can testify, that the drop-ins and groups, have provided confidence for those trapped and isolated within their own homes" says Steve Cullen "This has enabled them to venture out and meet others. Should these drop-ins and groups cease to exist, these service users would relapse into severe depression and become isolated again, which could lead to self harm and potentially suicide. Therefore this campaign is not just about activities but saving lives."
Anyone who has had any dealings with anyone who has mental health issues will know about the importance of weekly drop-in sessions, which allow people to get out of the house and meet fellow sufferers for mutual support and to take part in activities. It also allows their carers a bit of breathing space to get on with their own lives.
Salford Council, in collusion with Greater Manchester West NHS Foundation Trust, wants more one-to-one work to aid people's mental health recovery, and is stopping its community care workers from organising service user groups and running the drop-in sessions. In addition, staff have been told that three community care workers' posts will be axed.
While the staff have been consulted about the future of the service, carers and service users were not consulted at all, and kicked off about it. So yesterday, as a huge public campaign was being launched to save the drop-ins, pointing out that there had been no consultation, Salford Council began one, which runs until February 2013… "We want service users, carers, volunteers and the public to have their say" it states on the Council's consultation webpage (see here).
What it doesn't say is that the cut is already a fait accompli, as the staff have already been told their jobs have been axed.
"It became clear to our members very quickly that, even more than an attack on jobs, this was an attack on services…and that the users of those services would only be consulted after the decision was made" says Steven North, Branch Secretary, Salford City UNISON "Our members were told to keep the news to themselves at the risk of `upsetting' service users, but we reject such a patronising approach. These service users are human beings and have the right to become upset when somebody is trampling all over their rights. The service users say they want to help fight for our members' jobs and in turn we want to help fight for the services they need."
Service users, fighting to save their drop-ins, have joined together and formed themselves into a new group - United Services Users Committee, or its beautifully titled acronym USUC…
USUC is now campaigning alongside UNISON, which is considering industrial action in support of its staff members, and Salford Against The Cuts. Together they have organised a public meeting to Defend Mental Health Services on Monday October 1st at Swinton Royal British Legion, and have written to Mayor Ian Stewart…
"Effectively, a consultation now null and void by definition, will take place with one of the options, the current facilities, being already removed from the equation" it states "We believe that the decision…should not have been taken prior to the completion of that service user and carer consultation…The fact that the decision has been taken at this stage goes against the principles of natural justice and Salford City Council's alleged commitment to protecting the most vulnerable in our city."
Salford Council has already cut £140,000 from its Mental Health Accommodation support (see here), and aims to save another £80,000 by deleting three Community Care Worker posts.
The Council argues that its wants "more people to be able to get a one-to-one service from the community care workers" but, by cutting staff and drop-in support that helps some of the most vulnerable people in the community it will have the opposite affect, as these comments from service users, of the many we have seen, underlines…
"I do get a lot of support coming here because I can be myself and when I feel down it feels like it's the only place I can come and not be judged. If I didn't have a place like this to come to I would end up staying at home alone and not seeing anyone."
"When I heard about drop-ins was going to close I was really annoyed because I thought they were going to look after people with Mental Health. Getting people together helps their wellbeing, meeting friends, chatting to other people who understand what they're going through, most are living on their own. We also had other groups here like art, choir, craft and woodwork which have all been stopped which is very sad for us service users."
"The drop-in is very important to me because it is a safe place where I can meet like minded people and feel comfortable in a friendly environment."
"The drop-ins have improved my social skills and it's the only place that I feel I am able to meet people that understand me. I would be lonely and isolated without it."
Salford Council's Mental Health cuts also go against its own bombshell report predicting "higher levels of depression and mental health problems" as a result of ConDem Government policies on welfare and employment (see here).
The letter to the Mayor ends by stating "None of the people represented want to see a battle with our Council over this issue, but we are committed to fighting with all means available to us, if the decision is not reversed."
A message to the Council, and another message in the service users' organisation title – USUC…
Defend Mental Health Services
Monday 1st October, 7pm
Swinton Royal British Legion
Swinton, M27 4UQ