"I really hope that somehow what we say at this meeting will find its way back to him [the Mayor] just to show him we are not pushovers and we will not go away…"
One mum, whose daughter uses a wheelchair, was told to get a black cab to get her child to a day centre, following £600,000 cuts to specialist transport in Salford. On Tuesday night, at Swinton Royal Legion, she told other parents, carers and campaigners what this would mean…
For a start, she said, it's almost impossible to get a black cab at the peak times it would be needed. But even if she could get a cab, her daughter's wheelchair wouldn't fit in any other way but sideways which would be dangerous. Her daughter should sit with her back to the driver, as any sudden stop or jolt could be potentially life threatening. This would be impossible. The alternative is that she takes two buses.
This is just one of a series of horrific stories told by parents and carers of the result of Mayor Ian Stewart's cuts to the specialist transport that Salford currently uses to help some of the city's most vulnerable people get to their day centres.
That specialist help, which includes trained escorts and drivers, was due to end in two weeks time, until three Labour councillors, horrified at what they had heard about all the £4.4million cuts to Adult Services, called in the decision for it to be considered again by the Council's Scrutiny Committee before the end of this month (see previous Salford Star article – click here).
The transport service is used by 209 adults with learning disabilities, physical disabilities and mental health problems. Salford Council decided that "169 people could make adequate alternative arrangements, and that the other 40 could use an alternative form of transport with some support" (see full details in previous Salford Star article – click here).
The `alternatives' were `Ring and Ride, taxis, ordinary public transport or assistance from friends and family' – but parents and carers told the meeting on Tuesday night that these arrangements were almost impossible to implement for their sons and daughters. Their feelings were summed up by Noreen Bailey in her speech which urged empathy from the Mayor…
"Well what can I say, I really did have that little bit of hope for our transport. Deep down I still do but looking at things realistically, when did we ever have a chance when we have a Mayor who really does not give a damn about our sons and daughters, or the elderly, or our most vulnerable people in Salford. And what on earth does he have all these Assistant Mayors for I will never know because not one of them has the guts to stand up to him.
"I really do wish we did not have to have this meeting. As a mum with special sons I know how hard it is to get here and while we are here, we are on pins all the time, wondering is everything ok at home.
"At last we have three councillors who have decided to listen to us and to those can I say `Thank you - I know this has been a long time happening but it gives us a bit of comfort to know some do care'. Maybe I am clutching at straws but I look at my sons and believe that they are well worth fighting for. Does this Mayor and shambles of a Council realise that they can go home at the end of the day, they can go out when they please, and with the money they get they can just book a holiday with no thoughts to the cost and have a great time.
"Our lives are so restricted because we cannot just book a holiday as there are so many things that have to be considered, like has it got a hoist, is it fully adapted? And when we do find somewhere the prices are extortionate and we cannot afford to go - so we go for days out which we really enjoy but getting the boys in and out of the van believe me is like a gym work out and at the end of the day we are shattered. So yes, Mr Stewart why not give us a thought and just come and have a day with us. Maybe this is the only way to shame you.
"We have already been told that because we have a van which is adapted we will lose our transport. This van was not got through mobility scheme, we took a loan out which we are still paying so the van could be used for all of us but apparently this does not make any difference. John certainly cannot take the boys in the winter due to his health but this obviously does not matter to this Mayor. I really hope that somehow what we say at this meeting will find its way back to him just to show him we are not pushovers and we will not go away.
"Please just for an one hour Mr Stewart and company put BLINDFOLDS on, EAR PLUGS in and TAPE OVER YOUR MOUTHS and then you might get an insight as to how our special sons and daughters feel – some cannot hear, some are blind, some are totally dependent for their needs. Then tell us they are not worth this fight and deserve more respect than you give them.
"If this meeting is to be the last can I please say thank you so much for everyone that has cared enough about our plight to come and support us, and to all our escorts and drivers who are worth their weight in gold. And last of all I really hope that we all get a nice surprise at the outcome of our meeting tonight…"
Those at the meeting voted for Noreen to represent them when the councillors' `call-in' is heard at the Scrutiny Committee. And a report is imminent featuring more stories of hardship from parents and carers of those with learning disabilities, physical disabilities and mental health problems - together with alternative proposals for Salford Council to continue to help some of the city's most vulnerable people.
See also previous Salford Star article - Salford Labour Council's New Tory Style Dickensian DIY Welfare - click here
Graphic by Jamie Reid