A PETITION against a Coventry council threat to scrap ‘lifeline’ jobs support for severely disabled and mentally ill people has been signed by 2,500 people.
The petition against axing council funding for The Employment Support Service (TESS) was delivered to Coventry City Council on Monday (July 20).
Protesters including disabled users of the service and people who worked with TESS made their feelings heard at a demonstration outside the Council House.
The award-winning TESS helps some of the most vulnerable adults and young people with learning disabilities, autism and severe mental ill health into jobs and training.
Unions including Unison, representing 3000 council staff, say they are among the most disadvantaged people in the jobs market and would be ‘thrown on the scrapheap’ if the ‘lifeline’ service at the Jobs Shop in Coventry city centre was lost.
TESS was earlier this year threatened with closure by this month – as the council claimed it could no longer afford the £300,000-a-year cost.
But council leader Ann Lucas in May called a six-month reprieve – with temporary money coming from council ‘reserves’ – for consultation and for alternative funding including European money to be examined.
Her intervention also followed wide protests, including from opposition election candidates.
Opponents pointed to repeated claims by the council’s Labour leaders that they would protect the most vulnerable from heavy cuts in council funding by central government.
Campaigners also say cutting the service will end up costing the taxpayer more – in benefits, NHS bills and other costs to council, such a social care and day centre placements.
They point to figures from Kent which suggest helping each disabled person into employment provides an actual saving to a council of around £1,300.
Opponents also claim the previous proposal to scrap the service by May could have been unlawful without public consultation.
David Cockroft, assistant director (City Centre and Development Services) had previously told the Observer only half the funding could potentially be secured from European grants, and there was no guarantee of success in bidding.
It has been speculated that other sources of funding could be accessed if the council was prepared to meet some of the costs.
One campaigner said: “The cutting of this service will hit the most vulnerable in our society.
“These cuts hit real people who haven’t had the life opportunities that the general population sometimes take for granted.
“What work have the council done in looking at the financial implications of closing this service?”
Councillor Kevin Maton, employment cabinet member, said a report from council officers presenting options for the future would go to him in September.
He mooted the possibility of other funding agencies and programmes including the NHS keeping the service running in future.