Wednesday, September 05, 2007

More like mean test than 'means' test: meet the essential needs of the vulnerable free

‘Bristol is one of the few councils in the country whose Adult Community Care service currently provides the alarm for free’ said Annie Hudson, Director of Adult Community Care, Bristol City Council, about the lifeline alarm service (Bristol Evening Post, Soapbox, ‘City Council wants your views on alarm charging’, 4 Sept).

But she doesn’t say this proud of the fact that our city in this case takes the lead in providing a service to meet an essential need, free at the point of use – a principal at the heart of the NHS for instance which millions of us want to guard. She instead cites it as a reason for bringing in a means tested charge for the alarm, making us more like other councils. More like mean test, than means test if you ask me.

Frankly I feel its other councils who should be moving in our direction not us in theirs, in this case.

Other reasons she gives backing a charge are inadequate. To charge is wrong in principle and in practice. Such essential needs of the vulnerable should be provided. Some of the income from any charge would simply be eaten up by the costs of administration.

Ms Hudson states that ‘the idea was agreed in principle by the city council as part of this year's budget’ but also says ‘We are consulting widely, and are eager to hear people's views about whether charging is appropriate and how it can be made as fair as possible’. Does this mean that the council is willing to reverse its decision on the principle, or is it another one of those council decisions which ‘consultation’ will have absolutely no significant effects on?

‘No final decisions have yet been made’ she says. I hope not, but have very serious doubts. She has after all, already argued very strongly and publicly in one direction only. Central government wants it, other councils do it, some already pay for a similar service (perhaps they shouldn’t!), there are (vulnerable) people who can afford to pay, our population is getting older (and older peoples needs and rights get trodden on left, right and centre)…so we ‘must’ have it! Shame on the ‘Labour’ Group in particular if this charge is introduced.

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