Charity warning over social care cuts plan in West Norfolk

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Vital support services for vulnerable young people in West Norfolk could be closed if budget cuts are implemented, charity officials have warned.

A public consultation on Norfolk County Council proposals to slash funding for support services for people living in their own homes or other accommodation ends today.

The authority plans to reduce its contribution from more than £10 million a year to £4.5 million.

But the Benjamin Foundation, which provides accommodation for hundreds of young homeless people across Norfolk, fears it will be forced to close its facilities if the cuts are implemented.

The charity currently runs six supported accommodation centres in the county for people aged 16 to 24, including Right Tracks in Lynn and Steven Newing House in Fakenham.

They help residents to learn domestic skills and guide them towards training and employment opportunities, so they can live independently in the future.

But money for the staff, who provide round the clock cover, comes from county council funding streams and Right Tracks manager Julie Bowyer fears they would have to close the Railway Road centre if the cuts are imposed.

She said: “These young people have been let down by adults most of their lives and they’re going to be let down again.”

The county council says that, although it plans to increase the amount it spends on adult social care in the coming financial year, it is being forced to look at this area again because of the continuing pressure on local government finances.

Its consultation document said: “We are working with our district, community and health partners to develop proposals on how we could meet people’s needs if our budget was £4.5 million a year.

“We know that we can’t solve society’s problems on our own, so we want to find out how we can work with others to make the biggest impact with the money that we have.”

But Mrs Bowyer believes cutting support now will cost much more later.

She said: “They’re our future. The cost of supporting them and keeping them on the straight and narrow outweighs the costs of having to pick them off when they go off the rails.”

Right Tracks is currently home to 12 young people who have had to cope with often difficult or disfunctional home lives.

All but two are currently in training or employment and the others are being supported as they recover from long-term health problems.

Sam, 18, turned to drugs after his mother began using amphetamines.

Since going to Right Tracks in June he has begun a bodybuilding regime and will start a training course next month. But he’s in no doubt where he’d be without the centre.

He said: “I’d be somewhere down South Lynn, taking a load of amphetamines to try and kill my brain off.

“If this place closes, it’s going to leave so many people homeless. People will commit crime to have a night in a cell and a bit of food.”

Vickie, 17, was in the care system, where she battled against self-harm and said: “These people have helped me so much.”

Chloe, 18, only recently moved in, following the breakdown of her relationship and with no family in the area.

Many others are on the group’s waiting list and staff receive at least two referrals every day from other agencies.

But Mrs Bowyer says the true extent of the problem is likely to be far greater, because of the phenomenon of sofa-surfing, where people move from one friend’s house to another.