This week in Parliament I managed to secure a meeting with the Health Minister to discuss the future of our two highly valued dementia respite, care and rehabilitation homes in Eastbourne - Milton Grange and Firwood House, which are under threat of closure from County Hall.
Consequently, I’ve immediately written to the Leader of East Sussex County Council and his Deputy, Eastbourne county councillor, David Elkin, who is as you know in charge of the finances, so that we can lobby the Conservative government together to save both these homes. The issue is far too important to allow petty party politics to play a role, so I do hope they’ll join me to work in harness on behalf of both Milton Grange and Firwood House.
On that score, there will shortly be a consultation with regard to the county council’s proposals to close the services going out to the public from around February 13, with the final decision being taken by the county Cabinet in June. As soon as I have more details about how you, the readers of my column, can take part I will publicise them here. It is really important we all reiterate to East Sussex County Council that both these service providers must stay open, and continue to offer the full suite of services the outstanding staff do on behalf of our, often, most vulnerable residents.
I was, though, profoundly disappointed that this week the Conservative-Controlled county council voted down a Lib Dem amendment to their budget in Lewes, proposed by my colleague Cllr Tutt, aimed at taking cuts to Milton Grange and Firwood House off the table, as well as securing the funding to keep our two threatened libraries open in Willingdon and Langney. Very unsatisfactory to be frank, and a wasted opportunity to save these important services.
Meanwhile I have been overwhelmed by the enormous support from across Eastbourne (and beyond) of so many people who wholly appreciate that every necessary step must be taken to retain our two outstanding respite homes, Milton Grange and Firwood House. I promise to keep up the fight - be it locally or in Whitehall; these services and the first class teams who work in them have to be safety secured as Eastbourne grows and prospers, of that I am sure.
I also questioned one of the DWP Ministers in the Chamber this week on a particular problem that has been identified for people who are self-employed/freelancers, and in receipt of Universal Credit. The answer from the Minister concerned, if it was Eurovision, would have got ‘nul points’.
One of the process challenges with UC is that it assesses how much money recipients should be paid on a monthly rather than annual basis. This is all very well if you are an employee but not if you are one of the growing number of people nowadays locally and nationwide who are self-employed. They will know very well that monthly incomes tend to be pretty variable - up one month and down the next. Which means that by the end of the year, if the current rules aren’t changed, someone who has earned for instance £15,000 as a freelancer, will receive less UC benefit than someone on PAYE who has earned the same amount. A clearly invidious outcome which effectively penalises the self-employed. The new ministers answer was absurd and essentially told me the self-employed will just have to learn how to budget better! I don’t think he understands the nature of the problem yet so I will keep pressing the issue with the department until they remedy it. At the minute it’s penalising the aspirational self-employed which is neither fair nor rational. If, as they say, campaigning is poetry and governing is prose, the DWP have a clunker on their hands on this issue.
Award winning local writer and journalist Cole Moreton is on at the Birley Centre this coming Friday (February 9) telling his amazing story of The Boy Who Gave His Heart Away.
With all the financial pressures and challenges our beloved NHS is under, Cole’s extraordinary take of young Marc could almost be a rallying call of the daily miracles done on our behalf in Eastbourne and up and down the country by the Health Service. I can’t wait to see it myself not least as I’ve known Cole for years as a fine, insightful writer so well worth a trip of that I am sure. Further details can be found at: www.TheBoyWhoGaveHisHeartAway.com. Proceeds are to go to the Donor Family Network, so all in a fine cause as well.
That’s it folks. Have a lovely weekend and I hope to see you around town.