Aug 242011

Aberdeen Voice presents the third of a six-part tragedy by Jonathan Russell concerning the decimation of services for disabled people in Aberdeen – and asks what we can do to reverse the destruction.

A Comedy of Errors Meets MacBeth: Act I.

In last week’s article the work of the Community Placement Team was described and the challenges it faced outlined.

The Community Placement Team’s good practice had been highlighted in the Social Work Inspectorate Report as one of the few areas of good practice in Social Work Services within Aberdeen City Council.

What follows is the story of how managers, criticised in the Social Work Inspectorate Report (for amongst other things their lack of engagement with the front line) then went on to close the team down.

Two weeks after the publication of the Social Work Inspection Report the then management of Learning Disability Services informed me as Team Leader that the team was to have a budget of £200,000. Management had no idea what the actual budget allocated was: but this would have meant a halving of the team’s budget.

Staff had just received a re-grading as part of the Single Status agreement, so in terms of service delivery, the cuts were even potentially more than fifty percent.

Following the Council meeting to agree cuts to budgets, we met with the Head of Service. He informed us that a cut had been made in the Supported Employment budget, which he said included our team. I questioned whether they had actually cut the right budget, as this was not the Community Placement Team Budget. The Head of Service said he would investigate and reply to us.

As usual in such situations we received no reply. However what we ourselves discovered was they had cut (with council approval) a grant from the Department of Work and Pensions. This was not in their jurisdiction to cut, and could not possibly make any savings to the council.

The budget they cut was Workstep, which supported people with disabilities find and retain jobs in the open market. The Community Placement Team operated this service, but had no control of the budget. We had challenged management on a number of occasions that the budget received from the Department of Work and Pensions was not being fully utilized or used appropriately.  The Workstep scheme supported clients in full time work – including those employed by Glencraft, the well-known social business in the city for people with visual and other disabilities.

In reality this budget cut made no savings, and the Community Placement Team at this stage was still intact.

We did however lose two excellent staff members who left for other work due to the obvious insecurity of the situation. The Head of Service also ended the partnership we had had with Cornerstone, telling us that Cornerstone were ‘rubbish’ (at a later stage he told us that Cornerstone were ‘much better’ than us). We lost from this process another excellent team member who moved – like many other staff in the council – to Aberdeenshire Council.

On top of this there had been a whole series of meetings of top officials within the council about disability services. These meetings did not involve front-line staff.

Clients with a physical disability were particularly affected by these cuts

What happened as a result was the closure of Aye Can – a social business aimed at those with more complex needs – and as the name suggests, re-cycling. Aye Can received much of its operating costs through the landfill levy at no cost to the council, but this was not taken into account when making the cut.

Inspire – with support from the Scottish Government and Sir Ian Wood – heralded that they would take over and improve on Aye Can.

The type of clients they were looking for were the more able ones. These would often have been clients who would have been able enough to be in more inclusive work settings in the community. Of course in the end, money having been spent on new premises and it being heralded as the way forward (with clients being paid proper wages) it never re-opened, and was lost as a service. More recently Garden Crafts, a similar social business, has been closed.

The next development was the introduction of Eligibility Criteria: which was a way for the council to say no to providing services to the community, and restricting what as a council it would provide.

Management said that this would mean that we could no longer provide any of our leisure activities, as they did not fit the criteria, and all leisure groups were closed down. Clients with a physical disability were particularly affected by these cuts, but so were those with a learning disability.

Supports to many in employment ended. Of course management would later deny having cut leisure services.

  • In the coming weeks,  further articles will be published, written by the ex-Team Leader of the then Community Placement Team, documenting what happened, and making suggestions for the future of services for people with disabilities in Aberdeen City. Read the fourth part of this six part tragedy, subtitledA Comedy of Errors Meets MacBeth: Act II’ in Aberdeen Voice next week.






Apr 222011

By John Sangster.

I recently paid a visit to my local council to hand in a form for a Blue Badge. A Blue Badge is the notice you put on your windscreen if you are disabled and can therefore park for free, close to the shops and other amenities.
I am very active in my community, and I chair the Inverurie Community Council, recently chaired The Garioch Area Partnership and played an active role in setting up the Aberdeenshire Rural Partnerships Federation.

At some places I have arrived for a meeting only to find there is nowhere to park, and once I ended up about half a mile away, so a Blue Badge would be ideal.

I should describe my disability. I suffered from polio when I was a baby.  Polio is a muscle-wasting disease which has left me with a left leg with no muscle which is also over an inch shorter that the right one. Let’s just say I stick out in a crowd and you can see me coming.

I had filled in my form for the badge and went to the council headquarters to hand it in; this is an account of what happened, I handed in the form and the man said:-

“Thank you very much; we’ll get that off to your doctor.”

“Why do you need to send it to my doctor?” I asked

“Because we have to ascertain if what you said on the form is what you are actually suffering from.”

“But I’m standing in front of you, you just watched me come up the stairs to get here”, I replied.

“Yes, but you have to go through the system, we can’t just hand out badges to anybody, thank very much we’ll be in touch.”

So off I went home, only to be phoned later in the day, and a man asked:

“You put on your form that you use the Inverurie Medical Practice, but you haven’t put the name of your doctor.”

“I didn’t know I had a doctor, it’s a practice I just use one that I can get” I answered.

“No” he said, “you need a doctor’s name or we cannot process your claim.”

So I jumped in my car, went down to the Health Centre and was told that the doctor I had registered with had died 9 years ago, and I was now registered with a Dr Allan. I returned home and phoned the council and told the man my doctor at Inverurie was Dr Allan.

The man at the council asked me:

“What’s his first name?”

After I picked myself off the floor, I just told him:


.…and the man responded with:

“Thank you, we’ll be in touch.”

On Tuesday morning I was phoned by Dr Allan who had some questions; he had received the form although he pointed out the Council had sent it to Vic Allan, when his name was in fact Robert, but I digress. He had some questions:-

Q 1:   ‘Am I in pain when I walk?’  I answered “No, if I was I’d go to the doctor.”

Q 2:  ‘How far can you walk without feeling tired?’  I answered “It depends how tired I am when I start.”

Q 3:   ‘Can you walk further than 100 metres?’  I answered “Yes, but what’s that got to do with anything?”

I realised that these were in fact “loaded questions” and were designed to get me to withdraw my claim there and then. If I was in pain and could only walk a few metres, I may get a badge – but then if I was, I’d probably be in hospital and a badge would be no use to me, another one off the list – target achieved.

The truth is that a blind person would have ascertained that I am disabled, they would have said to me:

“you have one leg shorter than the other, I can tell by the vibrations.”

the sick and disabled don’t really matter as long as we give them a few hand-outs now and then

The Tory Government is beginning its purge on the sick and disabled, urged on by the land owners and other assorted Tory toffs in rural England.  The Government is proposing alterations and cuts to two of the most important benefits available to the sick and disabled, The Employment Support Allowance, (ESA) and the Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

The Department of Work and Pensions has given each Job Centre in the country a target, the object being to get as many people off the lists as possible.

For example, a friend of mine knows of a case in England where a  person with a  thalidomide related disabilty, having no arms or legs and who relies on a wheelchair to go anywhere, has had their disabled parking right removed.

The government have scrapped the DLA and replaced it with The Personal Independence Payment, (PIP), made up of two components, The Daily Living and The Mobility Component:  it is the former that we must resist. Under the new mobility component, the meaning of disability has been changed; for example, under the current DLA rules someone in a wheelchair is considered disabled, under the new rules this may be amended if you use a wheelchair but can leave the house, then under the planned changes you do not qualify as being disabled.

We could sit for a long time and not make up anything like this. It is draconian, it is brutal and it smacks of Thatcherism. We as a nation seem to be still worshipping at the altar of Margaret Thatcher with her notion that the free market economy is all that matters and that the sick and disabled don’t really matter as long as we give them a few hand-outs now and then.

Private consultation firms are now processing claims; these firms are only paid on a target-based system whereby they earn more if they reject people’s claims for benefit. You won’t find any of this in the news programmes, nor will you find it any of the Scottish election drivel that comes in your letter box daily. It is a “sweep under the carpet” subject that the politicians don’t want to talk about. It is being put forward by the Tories and their willing lackeys, The Liberal Democrats.

Coalition? What coalition?  They’re all Tories as far as I can see – shame on the lot of them.


Photography credit – disabled parking, © Graksi |