Emotional scrutiny panel members voted unanimously to challenge Merton Council on its plans to cut £5million from the adult social care budget, and not increase council tax to ease the pressure, after warnings from campaigners that vulnerable people would be driven to suicide.

About 25 protestors armed with placards braved the cold and rain to make their views on the cuts heard before the start of the meeting at the council offices in Morden last night. 

January 12: Vulnerable people will be driven to suicide by "devastating" adult social care cuts warn campaigners

The grassroots protest group, who identify as "Nelson Says", held signs calling for Merton Council to consult more with vulnerable people about the cuts, to raise council tax to help fund adult social care and to scrap the proposed £3million implementation of wheelie bins and purchase of waste vehicles in the borough.

December 9: "We all have our breaking point, and all you can do is try your best": Carers speak against Merton Council cuts

Several of the group also attended and spoke at the meeting although others, like wheelchair user John Kelly, said they could not bear the frustration of sitting through the discussion.

Wimbledon Times:

A placard at the Civic Centre in Morden

On Monday night, council leader Stephen Alambritis and 24 other councillors voted not to increase council tax by two per cent at a Labour group meeting.

The motion, which was proposed by Coun Alambritis, was seconded by cabinet member for adult social care Councillor Caroline Cooper-Marbiah.

October 21: Facing the axe: Meals on wheels and adult social care services, but at least council tax will stay frozen

Nine councillors voted to increase council tax, which would have raised £1.7million for adult social care in Merton.

Last night, a panel which scrutinises the council's decisions voted unanimously to challenge the decision, which Coun Alambritis said was made because he is a businessman sticking to his promises to freeze council tax.

Coun Mark Allison, cabinet member for finance, said in a statement: "The Government has cut council funding by more than 40 per cent but in Merton we have done our best to protect adult social care services by ensuring it gets a lower share of the cuts than other departments, and by adding a further £12m to its budget."

Controversial plans include a ten per cent reduction in adult social care staff, decommissioning services such as meals on wheels, the Imagine Independence Charity and the South Thames Crossroads Service for carers and reviewing all support packages to vulnerable and disabled people.

At the meeting on Tuesday, January 12, a panel of councillors spoke against the proposed cuts, and voted unanimously to ask the cabinet to "review and think again" about the scale and speed of the changes.

Manager of Merton Centre for Independent Living, Lyla Adwan-Kamara, said she was delighted with the result.

She said: "I’m really pleased and I’m sure our members will be really pleased, that the cuts we said would be devastating have been sent back to Cabinet to review and reconsider.

"Probably for the first time in this process, we feel like we have been heard and that scrutiny has done the right thing, but we need to see that followed through now.

"We need Cabinet to do the right thing, and reduce the level of cuts to adult social care."

Wimbledon Times:

Speaking before the meeting, Councillor Peter Walker said: "I’m very sad that it’s come to this. That a Labour council isn’t taking the option to lessen some of the worst cuts. That’s why I have publicly appealed to [Council leader] Stephen Alambritis to think again.

"We’re going to have people with incontinence pads being left in their beds now because we can’t have the staff to help them to bed, to wash them and help in the morning.

"That’s the level of indignity we’re inflicting on fellow human beings. That’s a real tragedy that I’m very upset about."

Director of community and housing Simon Williams and director of corporate services Caroline Holland spoke at the scrutiny meeting to explain the cuts they have proposed.

Mr Williams said: "We put forward these proposals as the least worst thing we could do.

"From now on cuts are going to be more difficult. It’s going to be more difficult to make savings without such impact."

However, the meeting’s chairman Councillor Peter McCabe revealed he had made personal use of the Crossroads care service when caring for a relative, and said: "I understood the value of their work. It troubles me that 72 carers will lose support."

Speaking after the meeting, Councillor Peter Southgate said: "I think we have to raise council tax. It’s the right course to take. I would be appalled if we don’t do it."

What do you think? Comment below or email letters@ wimbledonguardian.co.uk.