SNP MSP Joan McAlpine has blasted the local Labour council after it emerged that Dumfries and Galloway was the worst area in Scotland for sharp rises in charges for disabled people.
The MSP has written to the council leader Ronnie Nicholson asking him what happened to the £182,000 the Scottish Government gave Dumfries and Galloway to help reduce care charges in the region.
She has also pleaded with him to revise the policy which has resulted in deep distress to vulnerable constituents facing additional charges of up to £35 a week for services.
Ms McAlpine said:
“The Scottish Government gave Dumfries and Galloway Council around £182,000 this year to ease the burden of charges on disabled people. Yet the council has not used this money for that purpose. Instead they’ve decided to charge disabled people even more for their care by cutting the level at which they begin charging to the minimum recommended by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, as well as increasing the rate of charges. This means vulnerable people are hit with new or increased bills.
“The Labour-run council claim they were previously over generous in their treatment of disabled people and have now equalised their treatment with other parts of Scotland. But they were under no obligation to do that – particularly when they were given additional money to REDUCE the charges. Have they simply pocketed this extra cash?
“Other Scottish councils who, like Dumfries & Galloway, had higher thresholds did not cut them. Only two others have done this but they have delayed implementation of the change or applied it only to new claimants. This means the sharp rise in our area is the worst in Scotland.
“It is shocking that, despite being given this money from the Scottish Government, the council chose to lower the income threshold for charging disabled people, while at the same time increasing the rate for care from 55% to 65%. As personal care for over 65s is free, this means that the vast majority of the £182,000 intended to benefit disabled people in Dumfries and Galloway has not been spent helping them.
“They cannot hide behind these COSLA voluntary guidelines which at any rate have been widely criticised by disabled charities.”
The SNP Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Health, Shona Robison MSP, announced on the 29 January 2016 that £6 million of the £250 million allocated for social care was intended to reduce the charging burden or so-called “care tax” on disabled people. The Learning Disability Alliance Scotland (LDAS) has calculated Dumfries and Galloway’s share of this at £182,000 or slightly more.
Having investigated the matter thoroughly, Ms McAlpine concluded that the Labour controlled council in Dumfries and Galloway was not spending the government money as intended and had interpreted the COSLA guidance more harshly than any other council in Scotland.
“I have been contacted by disabled constituents who feel devastated by these changes. They are starting to pay for basic care at a lower level than healthy working people start to pay income tax. It’s an absolute scandal. And it is impossible for Dumfries and Galloway Labour to try its usual trick of blaming the government. In this instance the government gave them money for one purpose and they have apparently used it for another. Comparable councils are not acting in this way. It’s absolutely shameful.
“This Labour council’s heartless policy has resulted in disabled people experiencing a sharp increase in charges, sometimes by up to £35 a week, causing immense distress and hardship. These people are already on low incomes, dependent on ESA and PIP in many cases.”