KCC denies closing centre to save money
NEW flats proposed for the site of a centre for disabled people, which is under threat of closure, could save Kent County Council money.
The county council is proposing to shut the day centre or Day Opportunities Service in St Stephen’s Walk, South Ashford, despite strong opposition from disabled people, their parents, carers and Ashford Mencap.
KCC plans to build supported housing for vulnerable people in its place and says disabled people who use the centre will be able to continue activities elsewhere and get new opportunities within the community.
Government thinking is that disabled people should be integrated in the community both in terms of housing and day services. Rather than living in sheltered residential centres people enter “supported independent living” and live in individual flats with carers coming in to help them, as required.
But there is an economic benefit for the local authority because when people move into supported independent living they become eligible for housing benefit and other welfare allowances and therefore the local authority only has to pay for support services.
If the St Stephen’s Walk centre is closed and flats built in its place, there would be a saving for Kent County Council but not for the tax payer who pays the housing benefit.
An outline planning application for 12 one-bedroom flats has been submitted to Ashford Borough Council and surveyors have taken measurements. Staff and centre users were upset that they only found out the planning application had been made when they saw a notice on a lamppost.
Cllr Graham Gibbens (Con), the cabinet member responsible, apologised. A second apology was made when surveyors arrived unannounced.