Suffolk & Southwark – the non-identical twins

What do these two graphs have in common?

Above is a demographic diagram of the population of Southwark, London. It shows the population by age divided up into 5 year slices. Below is the same for Suffolk.

Wherever you see the bulges, that’s the age group where the biggest slice of the population is found. And where they go inside the line, it means they are less than the national average. Southwark is like an arrow head, Suffolk more like a vase!

They really are not very similar, are they?

The largest age-group in Southwark is aged between 25 and 35, with fewer and fewer over the age of 50 and upwards.  In complete contrast , in Suffolk the 50-64 age group is the biggest age group in the county. A significan proportion of Suffolk residents are over 50.

Whereas the bulk of Suffolk residents have lived in the same place for generations, nearly half of Southwark residents are communities  from Africa, the West Indies, Ireland, China, Vietnam, Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Indian subcontinent, and Turkey  to name just some.  Over 170 languages /dialects are spoken. Life expectancy is substantially lower for people living in more deprived areas in the borough, especially males. Four out of ten people live on their own.

In other words, Southwark is a racially diverse, densely populated, and young urban community with significant social deprivation, where the older people may find  neighbours move in and out frequently,  have little knowledge of  who lives next door – and may not even speak the same language. This is the background against which a social enterprise company (Participle) set up Southwark Circle, ‘a membership organisation that helps older people make the most of their retirement.’  NB the definition of ‘older people’ is 50-plus – the age when the numbers of people in Southwark  tail off sharply.

The demographic  profile of Southwark does indeed bring with it a risk of social isolation for older people, and you  could make a good case for the Southwark Circle being a perfectly good idea.

However, Suffolk couldn’t be more different from Southwark.

Most  Suffolk residents  have lived here for many years,  and many residents for generations. Suffolk is NOT mixed, NOT densely populated, and (whilst there is plenty of social deprivation)  NOT  deprived in the way  Southwark is. Far from being lonely and isolated, the 50-pluses are embedded in the community,  running the county – and practically everything else.

Which is why, many months later, I am still pondering why Suffolk County Council thought Southwark such a close match for our county. Why at a time when SCC are cutting staff and  frontline services did they decide to spend £680,000 on Participle  transferring a Good Neighbours scheme (which you have to pay to join) from isolated inner London to a rural community packed with good neighbours who have a long tradition of helping each other for free.

I am not criticising Southwark here, its just that Southwark and Suffolk are chalk and cheese.

I asked Colin Noble, portfolioholder  Adult and Community Services,  what he considered to be the key similarities between the two areas. His only reply was “there was a great deal of work done by the people who set up the Southwark Circle as a scoping exercise..

In response to the same question they tell me ”the research work is a bit too large to email without clogging up yours and my inboxes” and offer to send me a copy.

But surely the scoping exercise could only have been undertaken after Suffolk had decided that the Southwark project had merit and that there were enough similarities between the areas for the same approach to work?

Look again at the graphs. What similarities can you see?

Update 4 April 2012: I have recently been informed that the Suffolk Circle is costing Suffolk taxpayers ‘only’ £680,000 over three years, including £100,00 up front for scoping and planning. As of April  this means £350,000 has been spent on the project and this has  attracted 362 members,. You couldn’t make it up…

Bus passes: new hope for the elderly and disabled of Suffolk

I proposed a motion as opposition Transport spokesman at yesterday’s full council meeting. It was very simple. It asked the Council to revisit  their decision to provide little more than the bare statutory minimum for travel passes. This is because the current situation – so much less generous than the situation when  the money was channelled through District councils – is causing genuine hardship to many people, who often have few if any alternatives,

i)   recommending that those pass holders eligible due to age, shall be able to travel using their passes from 9 o’clock throughout the week,
ii)   and removing all time limitations on buses for those pass holders eligible due to disability.

This was passed, hoorah! My speech (below) proposing the motion was supported by  members of all the other parties, with very little demurring, (although Cllr Noble had considerable difficulty recognising his own Cabinet’s proposed figures on the subject),

An extraordinarily funny moment came when Cllr Newman, portfolio-holder  for Children, Schools and Young People’s Services put forward the  argument that poor college-going teenagers (here he instanced a young relative of his own) might have problems getting on a bus to college  if  OAPs crowded it at 9am. This was terrible, said Cllr Newman,  considering how much the young person in question was having to pay to get to college by bus . And he seemed genuinely surprised by the response – loud cries of “You should bring back the Explore card!” which immediately came from the opposition benches.

My speech:

Colleagues, since April, those people in Suffolk entitle to use concessionary travel passes by virtue of their age or disability have suffered a reduction in the terms and conditions of these passes. They can now no longer use them before 9.30 on weekdays.

This impacts on 140,000 people – just under 7,000 of whom require the pass on the grounds of disability.

Suffolk County Council are keen to say that they are actually providing enhancements  to the basic statutory national minimum.  That is, we provide the option of getting an ungenerous annual £50 in travel vouchers for those unable to use the bus, and allow cardholders to use a pre-9.30 bus if there IS only a single bus in the morning and it leaves pre-9.30. So much for the enhancements.

The County Council say  that ‘to extend the scheme would involve extra costs and would have been at the expense of other council services’.

So what exactly are these costs?

The national minimum scheme is currently costing  about £8 million for Suffolk.

The council tells us that the cost of including free travel between 9.00 and 9.30 would be an additional £180,000 a year.

They do not itemize the cost of providing 24/7 free travel for disabled people but we can easily extrapolate it from their figures. Do you know how much it will cost? An additional  £23,000 a year.  £23,000.

This is a tiny figure set against the harm that this cut has caused – the additional difficulty and expense of getting to work/school/training/social enterprise on time.

The additional difficulty to living a life that you and I take for granted.

We counld make a real difference for £23,000. Instead we are adding another hurdle for disabled people to overcome.

I must remind Cllr MacGregor that he, like I, answered live questions from disabled people at an ACE conference only last month and this change to their travel conditions was the subject generated the most concern. Can I repeat that the cost of solving it is £23,000 a year. Come on!

Let us turn now to the elderly people of this county. It is very easy, particularly if you have a car and your transport is paid for out of the public purse, to see no difficulty in this reduction of transport rights. It is, after all, the government’s statutory minimum. And what do old people do all day, anyway?

Well, let’s look around the room – what do you do? Plenty of people in this room are over 60. But you have active lives, you have things that you need to do, you are clearly continuing to contribute to society.  You would be irritated to think you could be put into a special category of people who don’t need to be there on time, whose priorities can always wait for the rush hour to finish, who are just not quite as important as other people. After a lifetime of paying taxes and possibly fighting wars for us.

£180,000 is not a large sum of money to ensure the full participation in society and in daily life of our senior generation.

Which brings us to the lack of a full ‘Equality Impact Assessment’. Again. What is it with these EIAs and Suffolk County Council transport? Again, a pre-assessment  judged that an EIA was “not necessary as long as specific measure were considered to meet the needs of people disadvantaged by remoteness or disability”. Well, Duh!

However even that is in debate. West Sussex council concluded, for example – with the same assessment – that implementing the statutory scheme may lead to “the council not fulfilling its duty under the Equality Act, 2010” and concluded that “to be genuinely useful, free travel would have to be all day for people with disabilities due to start-times offered by care-providers”. Were Sussex lawyers trained at different schools from Suffolk’s lawyers? Or is the council just a bit more caring and responsive in Sussex than we are?

Oh, and by the way West Sussex actually provide ‘companion passes’ too.

For this motion to be supported would cost the county council an annual £200,000, which is around 25p per year from every resident.

At a time of cuts I would hate to say “this is peanuts”. But it compares very favourably with the £750,000 we were happy to put into Suffolk Circle to support older people. With the £10 million which we are putting aside for rural broadband.   And we mustn’t forget that so far this year SCC has managed to underspend on our budget by £3.5 million, by prioritising spending cuts over frontline services and social exclusion.

Our proposals will allow full, affordable participation in society to these two valuable groups of people: those who do not want to let their disability stand in the way of their achievements and those who do not want to let their age confine them to home.

For all these reasons, I urge councillors to support this cheap and deeply effective motion.


Owing to demand from various organisations and advocacy groups we have set up a petition to urge the Cabinet to agree these recommendations . You can find the details and a downloadable paper form here

Weaselly translated #1 : ROBUST

Robust – cf.  robust investigation, robust screening,  robust framework

Whenever the word ‘robust’ is used to describe a procedure,  I smell a weasel in the room.  And most particularly if used in the passive:

  • these allegations were robustly scrutinized”
  • “the consultation was robustly undertaken”
  • “police insisted there had been a robust investigation”

Translation: “we closed our eyes, put our fingers in our ears, and went lalalala”

Oddly enough, “not sufficiently robust” means almost exactly the same thing.

© Page’s  Weasel-words Translator 2011