When times are hard, it is all too often the voices of vulnerable people which are ignored. Essential services which disabled people rely on are cut to the bone, and the pressures of austerity mean that harsh decisions are made without thought for the knock-on effects on people who are already struggling.
We saw this recently when Caerphilly County Borough Council decided to close Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre. This decision was overturned in the High Court, after the judge ruled that the council had failed to meet its obligations under the Equality Act. The judge said: “It is striking that in 2019, the position of elderly and disabled persons was not addressed in terms.”
I welcome the High Court decision – but this is just one example of how our public services do not answer the needs of disabled and vulnerable people in our communities, and our Labour-run council should reflect very carefully about the judge’s words.
In the Assembly last week, I asked the Welsh Government what can be done to make sure that public services talk to one another when they’re dealing with a person facing a precarious situation.
When someone is in a vulnerable position, that vulnerability affects every aspect of their life. So, if someone is struggling with an addiction to alcohol, that will often take its toll on their ability to hold down a job and pay rent. Likewise, if a person is a victim of domestic violence, they can be at greater risk of homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health problems.
Stretched public services, charities and local authorities need to make sure that referrals between services are chased up, and that no one is allowed to disappear from the books if they don’t turn up for an appointment.
In answer to my question last week, the Welsh Government told me that they’re working to strengthen how local authorities comply with their equality duties. This work is welcome – but we need greater clarity on what shape it will take and how that’ll translate into better care for the people who need it most.
After all, the hallmark of a civilised society is that we are meant to provide support for people at some of the darkest periods of their life. We abandon that principle at our peril.