England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

When we fight, we can win! Campaign prevents dementia homes closures

By Mike Forster, Socialist Alternative West Yorkshire

The threatened closure of two specialist dementia care homes in Kirklees, West Yorkshire, has been stopped by an effective community campaign led by relatives and friends of the residents at both homes. This has come as a huge source of comfort and relief to the campaigners, residents and of course the staff, all of whom were opposed to the closure plan. It is a stunning victory for a campaign made up of mainly female relatives who had never been involved in anything like this before and who have sacrificed everything to secure this reprieve.

It is also a huge blow to the Labour-led Council, which runs both homes and which had incorrectly assumed they could get away with the plan without resistance as part of their appalling package of cuts which were proposed last September.

Once these cuts were announced, a huge public meeting opposing the proposals was launched with almost 200 in attendance. Socialist Alternative members at the meeting were able to offer immediate assistance using the benefit of our experience to win the confidence of the campaigners. Within days, a meeting of relatives took place and swift organisation was put in place with a clear plan agreed plan to take the campaign forward.

The Council was immediately placed under massive pressure and scrutiny from all quarters. Huge lobbies of the Council took place at every meeting, with moving speeches from relatives at the full Council meetings which had councillors in tears. Legal help was immediately found using solicitors who undertook their work using legal aid, and petitions were launched.

Local, and later national media gave tremendous sympathetic publicity. As the campaign developed, meetings organised by the Council for relatives about their plans were taken over by the Organising Committee to impose huge pressure on the Council and to pull all the relatives behind the campaign. Social media was also used to tremendous effect to get the wider public involved.

The Council organised a public consultation on their proposal and was inundated by thousands of responses in opposition to their inhuman plans. The business and financial case from the Council was scrutinised by sympathetic professionals who tore apart the Council’s rationale. Wherever the Council turned, they were met by fierce resistance to the cuts. The Council was urged to ‘Find Another Way’, which became the public motto of the campaign and was chanted on all the public protests.

At the end of the consultation, the Council announced they were rescinding the closure plan. Disgracefully they announced they may be seeking a private provider to take over the running of the homes, which will of course be resisted with the same vigour. The stunned and emotional relatives and staff were overjoyed by the news and suddenly realised that their brave actions and stamina have saved the homes they love.

Important lessons

There are always important lessons to be learnt from such victories. The most simple lesson is that ‘if you fight you can win’ which was repeated time and again at public events. But a clear and simple plan of action is also essential to give confidence to campaigners that they can beat off cuts.

We were able to uniquely offer this advice and guidance from beginning to end and were able to do so with myself as chair of the campaign. The wider ‘Stop the Cuts’ group, of which I am proud to have chaired, has successfully staved off the closure of three leisure centres using much the same approach.

The massive public opposition, coupled to growing anger about Labour’s stance on Israel/Palestine, has now led to the resignation of four Labour councillors, leaving Labour with a slim majority of just one! However, the Council still faces a huge deficit and is still looking for other cuts which will need to be fought off, whilst also building a fighting left mass political alternative to Labour’s pro-business agenda.

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