Councillors looking at proposed cuts at Wrexham Council have voiced their anger at plans to cut £4 a day wages to vulnerable people, and amazement that some on the same scheme do not even get that since a policy change in 2013.
The elongated titled Safeguarding, Communities and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee/ Crime and Disorder Scrutiny Committee was Scrutinising a £26,000 proposed cut outlined as below in the report before them:
In the public consultation the Day and Work Opportunities scheme was described as ‘work opportunities offered to adults with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, sensory impairment and mental health needs’, adding Wrexham Council was looking at ‘whether or not we could look at other ways we can support people to access employment and volunteering opportunities.’
The debate was a rare public facing discussion, with pay items usually placed into ‘Part 2’ due to their sensitivity. Usually only councillor’s own pay discussions are public, such as the debate (and effective rejection) to save what at the time was £180,000 over the term of the council by taking an optional lower pay level.
Yesterday councillors debated the cutting of a £4 a day pay, given to some volunteers a handful of times a week.
Cllr Nigel Williams called the proposal ‘difficult to stomach’, pointing out some of those affected by the cut would have been working in the roles for over thirty years.
He added: “It is wrong to describe this as a ‘bonus payment’, it is their wage, for working hard. Some live under the care of social services or with their parents. They may get benefits but that does not go to them, in effect to these individuals this is their wages and their personal money.
“£4 a day is not a lot, and new individuals to the system don’t even get that. People will leave in droves, it is so important to them. What will happen to them? They still need looking after.
“I am surprised, these are some of the most vulnerable people in society. I am really surprised this has been drilled down so precisely to service users themselves.”
Cllr Krista Childs said she was ‘speechless’, noting: “It is such an incentive, the clients in Work Opportunities get such a great deal out of it. It is a wage and is motivation, it is pitiful we are saying we will reduce their £4 a day.
“It is also inequitable that the rest are not getting this.”
Cllr Gwenfair Jones spoke against the cut saying she was ‘firmly against it’, with Cllr Brian Cameron enquiring if contractual issues had been looked at.
The council officer said they ‘guessed that was being worked out’, a response that prompted a firm reply from Cllr Cameron, who said: “I would have thought that part would have been done a long time ago, I see that issue right away.”
Cllr Dana Davies said she ‘disagreed with it on so many levels’, stating: “It is not a ‘bonus’ payment, it is the most vulnerable doing what they can to make a contribution. The benefits we see as a society is how they perceive themselves, and their self worth.
“Most only do a couple of days a week, it is not full time. As they get a monetary amount they see that as them being valued. This is so so negative.”
Cllr Williams outlined some of the work that takes place such as waiting on tables at Alyn Waters or chopping wood at Erlas, and again reiterate his bewilderment that the proposal even existed.
Lead Member for Health and Adult Social Care, Cllr Joan Lowe, who presented the report, acknowledged there was an equality issue and promised to ‘have a look at it’ indicating that if the cut went ahead, therefore everyone on the scheme being paid £0, then it would be a solution to the equality issue.
That reply did not go down well with a chorus of ‘they should all get it’, this prompted a prickly reply from her: “If we do that and leave it in, you need to find me that saving from elsewhere.”
Committee members then did some quick maths with input from officers to calculate that reversing the cut and then ensuring the 26 people currently not getting the £4 a day wage would mean a possible £39k sum to be found.
Cllr Cameron carried on the equality debate, pointing out that it had been unequal since the policy had changed in 2013.
Cllr Lowe replied it was before her time as lead member, “That was nothing todo with me” but agreed “It should not be left like that”.
Cllr Williams said: “Cuts do have to come from somewhere, at this stage we are deliberating with nothing set in stone. There is no point coming to scrutiny if we are sat here nodding our heads. Some things we feel strongly about and air our opinions. Certain things are too far, and this is over the line.”
The mini speech had a round of ‘hear hear’s from the Committee.
Cllr Davies queried Cllr Lowe’s response to challenge the committee to find £39k of savings elsewhere to make up the gap, asking why that would be the case if decisions had not been made and the options were still options rather than firm figures.
A council officer reminded the meeting that all proposals and feedback are being taken to lead members who will then make decisions in the future.
The committee decided to recommend that the item be ‘reconsidered by the powers that be’, and requested that the chair and vice-chair be kept up to speed on the specific proposal and if/when it became a planned saving it be brought back before them.
Councillors also made it clear that the current system was inequitable and therefore they recommended all who came under the scheme should be paid equally.
The full and final savings and revenue generation ideas should be firmed up early in the new year ahead of the Council’s budget formation.
Top pic: Lead Member Cllr Joan Lowe.
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