This week’s letters: 29/08/13

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Backwards for care?: “Fifty-three assisted living units for people with disabilities to be built at the former Riverview residential home and day centre site off Bulk Road” (Lancaster Guardian, August 1). what exactly does this mean?

Over 25-years ago, when I began working in care services, I saw the lives of people with learning disabilities transformed as they moved out of the institutionalised care of hospitals and hostels and into a home of their own in ordinary houses in ordinary streets.

No longer, it seemed to me, would anyone with such a disability, whose family could not support them, have to live such separate lives again.

It must have been more expensive to provide the 24-hour staffing some of them needed to live fuller, more valued and socially integrated lives.

As it must now be cheaper to staff “53 assisted living units” all on the same site. But I cannot believe it means a move in the right direction.

Nor can I believe, as Government tells us, cuts in public spending will not affect the quality of services.

Social care companies, in competition with each other for contracts, are having their budgets constrained.

And in turn are squeezing the pay and conditions of their employees, a workforce that is increasingly part-time, on zero hours casual contracts or from an employment agency.

A care worker can now expect around £6.50 an hour, more than the minimum but far less than a living wage of £7.40 an hour, for an important, responsible and sometimes stressful job.

Not a wage to recruit and retain valued staff on, and maintain a continuity and consistency of care.

If I was disabled I would still want to live in my own home and not a unit, would still want to live among and not separate from others, and receive a quality care service to assist me to do so. I fear we are moving away from these ideals.

Bill Riley

Havelock Street

Lancaster

Skerton has to be saved

Lancashire County Council wants to close Skerton Community High School. Why?

In a process started under the previous Tory administration in 2012 one of our much loved local schools is under threat.

Lancashire County Council has decided to formally consult on Skerton’s closure. See their decision document: http://council.lancashire.gov.uk/documents/s25721/Report.pdf

The main criticisms made of the school are:

*It doesn’t have enough children on its role – only an estimated 166 in September 2013.

In a county where ‘every child matters’, and in a district where so many vulnerable children go to Skerton High, that should be 166 reasons to keep the school open.

In addition, we all know that the future of Skerton High has been a concern since Hornby High was closed in 2009. This uncertainty only increased when Skerton Primary School closed in 2010.

Of course local parents have reacted naturally to this threat; by not sending their children there. This downward spiral can only have one end.

The County Council should remove the threat and take active steps to promote the school. Only then will school numbers start to rise.

*There are other places available at nearby schools.

School education is based on parental choice. As well as providing a safe haven for children who haven’t coped or aren’t wanted in other schools, parents choose to send their children to Skerton High.

It is a mainstream school and an inclusive one. Not all parents want to send their children to a huge school (eg Ripley – over 1,600 pupils). Some prefer the individual approach a smaller school such as Skerton can offer.

nThe recent Ofsted report identified the school as having serious weaknesses.

Children don’t come neatly packaged as square or round pegs. Their needs come in all shapes and forms. A school like Skerton that recognises and deals with that will always struggle with a tick box culture of inspections. Skerton makes progress in ways that other schools don’t – diagnosing special needs for example.

These aren’t rewarded with ticks by Ofsted but they matter to the children they help and their parents, and they matter to the school.

Having said that the school isn’t complacent, or defeatist, and responded promptly and seriously to Ofsted’s concerns, drafting an action plan which had already begun to be implemented before the end of the summer term.

n The school can’t afford to stay open.

The staff and governors disagree. Providing a full curriculum whilst maintaining the pastoral, caring approach is a recognised challenge.

Finances will always be an issue to a school like Skerton, where many children join the role during the course of each school year, but the smaller numbers on Skerton’s role makes that even more difficult.

That said, staff and governors have been actively working for some time, with agreement from the county council, to make changes whilst still providing a full curriculum within existing budgets.

Find out more about this long standing local school. See the school website: http://www.skertonhigh.lancsngfl.ac.uk/

Local councillors are fighting for the school’s survival. Can you help?

Please write to your County Councillor expressing your support for Skerton and sign the on-line petition: www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/lancashire-county-council-keep-skerton-community-high-school-open

Colin Hartley (proud to be an ex Skerton pupil)

Alderman Road

Lancaster

Benefits are changing

The second phase of the national benefit cap roll-out has now begun, covering those areas which have the highest number of affected households.

We know that many families will be anxiously awaiting the start of this change and are understandably worried about the impact it will have on their lives. Recent statistics from the benefit cap pilot show that a staggering 97 per cent of households affected have dependent children, and 74 per cent are lone parents.

With the Government estimating that the cap will impact 40,000 households in total, it is the most vulnerable who could be hardest hit.

It is more important than ever that anyone affected can access financial support and advice now. We urge anyone who is worried about their situation to carry out a free and easy benefit check on our website – www.turn2us.org.uk.

The website also features full, up-to-date information about the cap, and for people that need additional support, there is a tool to help them find an adviser in their local area.

With many people struggling to make ends meet, it is more important than ever that everyone accesses the support they may be entitled to.

Karen Holmes

Welfare Benefits Specialist

Turn2us

200 Shepherds Bush Road

London W6 7NL.

Persecuted harriers

Nick Lakin’s report (Lancaster Guardian, August 15) on the demise of the hen harrier in our region and in England generally is really no surprise to me.

In my former employment I had regular access to the fells and moorland in this area for some 15 years during which time I witnessed a pair of these beautiful birds raise a couple of young in the Tarnbrook area.

What became of this little family I cannot say but they were not about there for long.

There is no doubt whatever in my mind the approaching extinction of the hen harrier lies squarely with the land owners and more particularly with their gamekeepers. The ‘landed gentry’ may pay lip service to the laws of preservation but they are undoubtedly determined to preserve their grouse moors at any cost – nothing must be left to chance which may threaten the grouse stock so what hope is there for any bird of prey when found well out of the public’s view?

I know of a lake where once there was a thriving colony of herons.

When their natural homeland was acquired, all of these oft-seen birds soon mysteriously disappeared, presumably to preserve the new owner’s fish stocks.

The hen harrier problem will not be solved without some firmer positive action by those who are supposed to be their protectors.

While acquisitive land holders are allowed to take over more common land and close to the public what was for over a century a well-known beauty spot previously accessed by walkers, without a murmur of disapproval, what hope is there for saving just another troublesome bird of prey?

Richard Hall

Ullswater Avenue

Morecambe

High speed madness

We have more food banks and more people using them than at any time since World War Two.

We have drastic cutbacks in our hospitals, because we are supposed to be short of cash.

Pot holes by the thousands remain untouched, because the bankers ran off with our money.

People that I visit as a charity worker are suffering badly because their grants have been cut or reduced.

However, never mind all that trivia, wouldn’t it be great if we could get from the North of England to London 30 minutes faster, in 20 years time?

What’s that? The guys at Westminster that spend our tax money are going to make it happen, by spending £40 or £50 or £60 or £80 billion. But they tell us they have no money and that’s why we are suffering austerity measures.

Have the lunatics taken over the asylum or is it that politicians have lost sight of their priorities which is to look after the population of the UK now?

Can anyone explain how we can suddenly find £billions for a train line when we are broke, but not to feed and look after our sick and poor?

Graeme Chapman MBE

Lancaster.

Danger of road thrills

Recently we had yet another serious accident involving a motor cyclist on the A588 in Cockerham causing the road to be closed for several hours.

Every weekend and many evenings, residents and road users are subjected to the noise and danger of these idiots getting their thrills by travelling at inappropriate speeds and endangering other road users.

The police have been contacted many times but seem either unwilling or unable to address this problem; yet they are perfectly happy to sit in a van on Ashton Road prosecuting motorists travelling at 35mph.

I find it totally offensive to see their poster campaign THINK BIKE! Surely it is they who should be thinking of children, cyclists and others on the road as they hurtle round our country roads at high speed.

Yours nervously.

Richard T Halhead

Norbreck Farm

Cockerham

Lancaster