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Local mental health service users and mental health workers came together with representatives from two major public sector unions, Leeds Trades Council and Leeds Against the Cuts to lobby Leeds City Council in opposition to its plans to close mental health day centres across the city. At present UNISON are currently pursuing a legal challenge to these closures. Socialist Party members attended the protest to talk to campaigners and lobby councillors as they entered the chamber.

 Dave Younger, Leeds City Socialist Party

The Labour-controlled council has taken the decision to close the day centres without a serious consultation of workers and service users, which is a legal requirement. Angry opposition from local campaigners and trade unionists has meant the Council has had to repeatedly push back planned closure dates while seeking legal advice over their plans to slash these vital services.

Leeds Socialist Party spoke to the Chairperson of the city-wide Mental Health Service Users’ Involvement Group, Norman Forsythe, about the plans to axe the day centres.

Norman said that the Executive Board of Leeds City Council had not consulted anyone over any detail of the planned cuts and had only set up a committee on the matter after being pressured by the campaign to consult people. He said he felt the Council had not been listening to local people’s concerns and was not even questioning the need for drastic spending cuts, and that this is why the campaign was necessary to force councillors to begin to listen to people whom they would otherwise have ignored.

When asked about what effects the closures would have on local people with mental health problems, Norman pointed out that there has already been an increase in reports of attempted suicide and self-harm by service users since the announcement of the plans to cut the day centres.

These centres are essential to the wellbeing of extremely vulnerable people in the community who would otherwise have nowhere else to go where they can feel safe and comfortable and receive much needed support for their problems. It is clear that whether or not the centres remain open is literally a matter of life or death for some service users.

As well as the potential cost of lives, which is obviously immeasurable, Norman pointed out that the planned cuts also do not make financial sense. People who attend these centres are often reintegrated into society after having their confidence built up and learning new skills so that they can get jobs and contribute productively to society. This is obviously a good thing economically speaking, because it gets people back into work.

Closing the centres, however, means that these same people will get no support, their conditions will most likely deteriorate and they will probably end up back in hospital or living on incapacity benefit, costing the taxpayer more money in the long run.

The long-term cost on the local community, both financially and socially, will far out-weigh any savings that could be made by these cuts, and in fact the Council has admitted that this particular cut will not make any budget savings in real terms.

We discussed the possibility of Labour councillors refusing to implement Tory cuts and set needs budgets like the Militant-led Liverpool City Council in the 1980’s. Norman agreed that this would be a possibility, but also that it would only work if Labour councillors had the will to oppose cuts in the council chamber, which is clearly not the case in Leeds. Leeds Labour councillors have been all too happy to wield the Con-Dems’ axe for them since being elected last May and passing a savage austerity budget.

“These are Labour cuts here in Leeds,” Norman pointed out, whilst also stating that local cuts are part of an overall attempt by the Tory-Liberal central government to “hammer the working people” for ideological reasons.

The fight to save the day centres continues and Leeds District Socialist Party will continue to work with local service users, mental health workers and trade unionists to oppose ALL cuts to public services, whatever party implements them, and to continue to propose a programme for a real alternative to making working people pay for the capitalist crisis.