By Georgina Ryall KENT ON SUNDAY


A TOP retired academic says he is “worried” about the controversial proposed changes to personal care services for disabled people in Medway.

Speaking ahead of a second public meeting in Chatham next week as part of a public consultation into the changes proposed by Medway Council, Rochester’s Professor Mike Oliver says he fears the reasoning for the changes is motivated by cost-cutting.

The council is set to introduce personal budgets, under Government guidance, instead of the current direct payment scheme to provide disbled people with more choice on how to speand their money. It says the move would empower users and give them more flexibility.

“It depends how the budget is calculated and who decides what goes into it,” said the retired emeritus professor in disability studies at the University of Greenwich- a tetraplegic wheelchair-user who currently has care services under the existing system.

He added: “I’m worried. I suspect that the change to personal budgetsbis an agenda dominated by the need to cut costs.”

Among the topics to be discussed at the meeting on Wednesday at the Innovation Centre in Maidstone Road will be concerns about the introduction of personal budgets and the private employment of carers by the recipient, which will require the disabled person to implement correct employment procedures according to employment law.

Paul Coles at Age UK, which broadly welcomes the proposed changes, adds: “We would advise people who approached or just decide to take out a personal budget to have an advocate supporting them through the process.

“We would also like to ensure that people are fully aware of the appeals process and that if they’re unhappy about the amount of personal budget allocated that they can appeal it.”

There have also been concerns about the misappropriation of funds by the user.

Prof Oliver however does not believe it is a major concern.

He said: “I think it’s similar to the direct payment system. People are always accused of abusing the system but apart from the odd story in the papers very few people will.

“As I understand it there are two safeguards built into the system with regard to how you spend your money- your agreed social needs and the outcome you want.

“If socialisation is part of your agreed outcome then yes, you can go out and spend it on a pint of beer. However, you cannot spend it on anything illegal as will be outlined in the regulations.”

Regarding fears that clients themselves may be more susceptible to abuse he goes on to say that if clients are perceived to be vulnerable then the local authorities should deal with it appropriately.

The expert added: “It’s not a reason not to provide people with personal budgets, it’s a reason to make sure you’re doing your job properly.”

Personal budgets were introduced in March 2011 across England as part of a pilot project.

However a survey by website, found that 90% of people questioned had never heard of the scheme. The Government aims to have the new care funding fully introduced by 2013.

Prof Oliver has been aware of the changes from the beginning due to his extensive background in disability rights and awareness and he makes sure he keeps abreast of it.

He said, “At the end of the day we all have a responsibility to know what’s going on in the world and take care of our own needs.”

Cllr David Brake, portfolio holder for adult services at Medway Council urges those likely to be affected by the changes to get involved in the consultation process, which finally concludes on February 9.

He said, “ I would urge everyone to get involved in the process, the the results of which will be carefully considered when the council makes it’s decision later this year.”