Brighton disability service faces the axe as funding withdrawn

Geraldine Des Moulins, Possability Peoples chief executive
Geraldine Des Moulins, Possability Peoples chief executive

Disabled people are 'bearing the brunt' of funding cuts as a 'vital' service is set to be axed, the boss of a Brighton charity has said.

Staff at Possability People have been left 'reeling' after the news that its advice centre is being cut after receiving a letter from Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Brighton and Hove City Council.

But a spokesperson for NHS Brighton and Hove CCG, said: “Across the NHS there are more and more people who need to use health services and the funding available to pay for them cannot keep up with this increase in demand. This means we have to focus NHS funding on supporting services which have been proven to have the most impact on people’s health and that are not already provided in the community."

The Possability People Advice Centre, which has been running for 30 years, helps disabled people with equipment grants, Blue Badges to bus passes, housing, help with care, food bank referrals, welfare benefits and allowances.

In 2018, the centre dealt with 2,200 people face-to-face, and handled 4,468 enquiries, the charity said.

But now it is set to close after an 85 per cent cut in funding.

Geraldine Des Moulins, Possability People’s chief executive, said: “Yet again, disabled people – often the most vulnerable people in our society, are bearing the brunt of funding decisions made without any real understanding of the impact they will have.

"We are keenly aware of the financial pressures health and social care services are under but we can’t see how this will be a real saving as the first thing most people do in a crisis with no-where else to turn is go to their GP.”

The service is run by three part time staff and a bank of volunteers - many who are living with disabilities and long-term health conditions.

Ms Des Moulins said: “The Advice Centre is often the last port of call for people who find themselves in desperate situations – to have this life line taken away seems particularly cruel. We will be doing all we can to fund the centre in the longer term, and our volunteers will help as much as they can by answering phone calls, but in the short term, the outlook for desperate disabled people is very grim.”

Defending the move, a spokesperson for NHS Brighton and Hove CCG, said: “Over 80 per cent of contacts for this service are related to benefits help and Brighton and Hove has a wide range of other community and voluntary sector services that support people with these needs.

"There are also a number of both local and national services that offer benefits advice and help in accessible ways.

"With this in mind, we took the difficult decision to reinvest the money that would have been spent for this service into other services that will bring direct benefits to more people’s health needs. This was not a decision we took lightly but we feel it is necessary to ensure we are able to continue to use public money in the most effective way and do not spend more money than we have available.

“We recognise the valuable support provided by the Disability Advice Centre to disabled people in the city, particularly in relation to accessing benefits. Going forward, we will continue to work with our local authority colleagues and the voluntary and community sector to maximise the support provided to our diverse local population and to ensure that our investment of NHS funding supports and complements, rather than duplicates, other statutory and voluntary sector services.”

Two of the city's MPs backed calls for the decision to be reversed.

Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavillion, said: “Possability People’s advice centre is a vital service that has supported many of my constituents to successfully challenge incorrect disability benefit decisions, and helped them to get the support they need.

"For NHS commissioners to pretend that there isn’t a link between health and wellbeing, and accessing timely disability benefits advice when people are in crisis and struggling to cope, is hugely short-sighted and counterproductive, as I have made clear to the CCG.

“I struggle to believe that other advice agencies in the city have the capacity fill the gap left by the closure of Possability People’s advice service. And with Possability People specialising in disability advice, I fear that many vulnerable residents in the city will be left unsupported when they desperately need assistance.”

Lloyd Russell-Moyle, MP for Brighton Kemptown, called for the decision to be reversed and said: “I am shocked by the CCG’s handling of this matter, giving only a few weeks notice on a decision which will affect hundreds of my constituents.”

To find out more about Possability People and to make a donation, visit: {https://www.possabilitypeople.org.uk/donate/|www.possabilitypeople.org.uk/donate/