Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Smiling in spite of the cuts

Now and then you meet someone who teaches you how to smile through adversity. 74 year-old John Onyettt from Nottingham is one such person.
He is a retired engineer from the local Rolls Royce factory and he has been happily married to his wife, Maggie, for 53 years.
Sadly, Maggie had a stroke, so she can't speak properly, although she does seem to understand the gist of what you say to her.
Maggie needs help getting up and help with dressing, washing and eating. John manages to look after her for most of the time, even though he has had a major heart attack himself.
But they also have visits from council carers. And John has just heard that the cost of these visits will go up from £324 a month to £920, because of council cuts.
In case you don't know how the system works, if you need personal care in your own home, your local authority will do two assessments.
The first is about your level of need: is it low, moderate, substantial or critical? Most authorities will only offer care if you fall into the substantial or critical categories. A handful only cover critical cases, whose lives are in danger.
The second assessment is a means test. If you have less than around £23,000 in savings, the council will cover all or part of your care bill. Above that, you have to pay.
John and Maggie have a little bit more than £23,000. But not for long, because Nottingham Council's charges will wipe out their excess savings within a few months.
But John carries on smiling and joking, while talking about the charges and while helping Maggie make her laborious way across the living room and onto the stair lift.
With a chuckle, he chides her for being, well, a little bit heavy to help along.
He has been looking after her in this way for nearly 10 years.
During that time, they have covered all their major costs themselves: adjustments to the house, wheelchairs, the stair lift.
And there's the rub. John and Maggie took pride in not wasting money, in saving, in paying for what they needed themselves -- if they could.
They were grateful that Nottingham capped their care charges, calculated by the hour, at £81 a week.
Now, in a change which is being repeated across the UK, the hourly rate has been raised and the weekly cap on charges has been removed. It's to help councils deal with multi-million pound cuts imposed on their budgets by central government.
"It's like cutting your jugular vein," John told me, "It'll drain us dry."
But there's still a sparkle and half a smile.
My worry is what Britain does without people like John, who care for our sick and disabled and keep their spirits up. And are careful with the pennies.
Because what they do doesn't make financial sense. Just thinking about money, they should have spent as much as they could when the going was good, leaving the state to pick up the tab later on.
Where would we be then?

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