On Monday night nearly one hundred people turned up to a meeting in Mirfield to oppose Kirklees Councils’ proposed closure of two local specialist care homes.
By Cormac Kelly, Socialist Alternative West Yorkshire
Save our Kirklees Dementia Care Homes have been campaigning hard to keep these open. Chaired by Socialist Alternative’s Mike Forster we heard from passionate speakers who described the devastating effects of dementia on their parents and loved ones and the invaluable work done in care homes to support sufferers. The impact upon residents, all of whom have different levels of dementia, would be devastating, with the potential of having to relocate to new care homes, new routines, new staff, none of which appears to have been taken into account by the council.
The meeting heard from Yogi Amin, Head of Public Law from law firm Irwin Mitchell who had been involved in the successful campaign to save the Royal Infirmary in Huddersfield.
Yogi explained that in law, the council has to ensure there is proper consultation and follow the correct procedure. But he also strongly emphasised that legal action was not enough by itself and that there is a need to move quickly, let the public know about the campaign, be audacious and have tenacity.
Questions were asked from the floor, the dangers of moving older people pointed out and concerns were expressed about the future employment of the specialist care workers in these homes. There was support from the local Unison representative and it was pointed out that council run care homes are much better for residents as are pay and conditions for the workforce.
The local Labour council is making swingeing cuts in its response to government cuts to funding, with a current budget deficit of £47m.In only the last few days, we have seen a rebellion amongst Tory MP’s over local council funding cuts, yet there is no lead from Labour.
Instead of implementing these cuts, the council should be organising a campaign amongst trades union and local action groups to defend essential services. This could quickly link up with other councils in a fightback against cuts, for example in Birmingham and Nottingham. Such a movement, connected with working class people, would have a massive effect and bring down the Tories.
Because of this lack of a lead from Labour, local groups have come together to defend services in Kirklees, most recently winning a reprieve against three leisure centres that were destined for closure, now remaining open. These kinds of successes are inspiring other groups in the area, defending services. Socialist Alternative members have played a role in bringing these campaigns together to link up to gain strength and inspiration from each other.
Whilst councillors from other political parties were in attendance, the Labour group were forbidden from coming by the council leaders and were in a meeting at the same time at the Hudawi centre, a community hub that they are selling off! It is disappointing that not one of the Labour councillors, even those who would regard themselves as on the left, broke rank to attend this important meeting.
The next stage of the campaign is to circulate a petition to push for a full council debate as a method of bringing the issue out into the open and make councillors pressured through the campaign that they will not be allowed to push these closures through. The feeling of the meeting was angry but determined. Local Socialist Alternative members will be giving advice and support to the campaign to ensure that it has the best chance of success, not through cosying up with any of the councillors, but through the building of the grassroots movement. The immediate next steps will be building for a rally outside the next full council meeting on 7 February to ensure that pressure is maintained on the council and to demand a full council debate when they decide on the fate of the residents on 20 February.