'They're putting votes before the vulnerable' - Fury over council cuts to school for disabled (From Times Series)
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'They're putting votes before the vulnerable' - Fury over Barnet Council cuts to Mapledown School for disabled in Cricklewood
A school for heavily disabled children is facing “shocking” budget cuts from the same local authority that opted to lower council tax in the build-up to the election.
Parents at Mapledown School, in Claremont Road, Cricklewood, have been left devastated by news that subsidised places on “vital” after-school clubs and half-term play schemes will be slashed by 25 per cent from April 1.
The clubs and schemes, which are already heavily over-subscribed, provide respite for parents who work full time.
But hard-up families now face paying hundreds of pounds a week to keep their children on the programmes.
The school has remained tight-lipped over the cuts to avoid a fall-out with the local authority but parents say the decision to cut the budget by approximately £45,000 will be life-changing.
Barnet Council opted to lower its council tax income by £1.3million this year by implementing a one per cent reduction - an annual saving of just £7.40 for residents on the lowest council tax band and £28.30 for those on the highest.
'Votes before the vulnerable'
But furious parents at Mapledown say the Conservative council is putting votes before the vulnerable.
Kristine Canavan, whose 13-year-old son Liam attends the school, is gathering a petition opposing the cuts.
She said: “It is shocking. We’re talking about the most vulnerable people in the borough. I doubt the council is aware of the impact these cuts will make – they can’t be or else they wouldn’t be doing it.
“We are a group of people who are so overwhelmed with our daily lives that we often don’t say anything - we’re exhausted. We don’t have time to put together huge protest campaigns to fight this - it is tough to be heard.”
In real terms, the school is being forced to cut the number of subsidised after-school clubs from nine per week to just five, and reduce the subsidised half-term play schemes from five days a week to four, and from nine weeks a year to eight.
The cost of placing a child in an after-school club or half-term play scheme that is not subsidised is £45 (for two hours) and £105 (per day) respectively.
Parents invited Barnet Council to attend a meeting at the school last Tuesday to discuss the consequences of the budget reduction.
But although representatives from Adult Social Services attended (the school has pupils aged 18 and 19), Children’s Social Services declined to attend. No explanation has since been given, despite a request from the Times Series.
'We are running out of options'
Meanwhile, parents have been left to consider the consequences of the reduction in subsidised places on the schemes.
Sue Wilkins, whose 17-year-old daughter Faye attends the school, said: “If you want to keep your job then you need to send you children to these clubs, but you would have to earn a fortune to pay for them now.
“It means we are running out of options. We are 24/7 full-time carers but we can’t do the things they do here and the kids don’t get the same stimulation.
“It was a shock when we heard. They (the council) have been talking about it being hard times over the past few years but I thought things were supposed to be getting better.”
Faris Ahmed, whose younger sister Hana, 16, attends the after-school clubs and play schemes, said: “The stimulation they get here is vital. She can’t walk and talk so at home she would just sit there and deteriorate.
“The sessions give my mum time to run errands after work – she works five days a week – and my brother and I are just starting our careers so we won’t be around to help quite as much, so it’s really important.”
'Striking a balance'
Council leader Richard Cornelius said the cuts to the school’s budget came directly from central government but insisted the decision to lower council tax was the right one.
He said: “It is not us that has cut the funding and if we were to cover all the cuts from central government we would be looking at doubling council tax.
“It is about striking a balance between spending and taxing. This country is groaning under the level of tax at the moment.”
Asked if he thought the decision to lower council tax at the same time as cutting the school’s budget was fair, he said: “I think the average person in the street thinks this is fair.”
But Mrs Canavan disagrees.
Asked what she would say to Mr Cornelius, she said: “Please stop taking services away from our most vulnerable citizens – we need the respite.
“Please look at the bigger picture. If I have a breakdown, I can no longer look after my son and he will end up in the care of the state anyway.
“It is extremely callous and unfair. These are people who have no voice – they don’t know about budgets or politics. They can’t vote so are they not important? We’re talking about changing people’s lives.”
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