Family’s fears over controversial cuts

A Norwich woman who helped set up a key support group for families coping with autism has condemned controversial council plans to cut services for some of Norfolk's most vulnerable people.

Norfolk County Council is proposing major changes to the way services for people with learning difficulties are delivered as well as a shake-up of day services across the board.

The changes are linked to the council's Big Conversation process, which sets out how the authority intends to scale back from the direct provision of services as it moves to bridge a �155m funding gap.

Sandra Sheldon, who was one of the founders of the Norfolk Autistic Society, said that years of good work could be undone, and vulnerable people and their carers left to fend for themselves.

Mrs Sheldon, from Unthank Road, is doubly concerned after cuts by the coalition government have seen the removal of help to re-house her 48-year-old daughter Sarah, who has learning difficulties and autism.

The 71-year-old also fears that council plans to withdraw from the running of day centres could leave her daughter, who attends the Dereham Day Centre, without any support.

'We are very worried about the future,' Mrs Sheldon said. 'We've been trying for four to five years to move Sarah on to other accommodation. We have looked after her since birth, but my husband and I are both in our 70s and we are worried about what will happen to her.'

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Mrs Sheldon, who with her husband Michael, helped found the Norfolk Autistic Society in 1970, which helped set up the forerunner of Harford Manor School, in Norwich, and three homes for adults with autism, including the Dereham Day Centre, said the day services options being proposed by the council were 'pie in the sky'.

David Harwood, cabinet member for Adult and Community Services at Norfolk County Council, said: 'We understand that change isn't easy, however there is no question of vulnerable people being left to cope with these changes on their own.

'I want to reassure the Sheldons, and others, that if this proposal is agreed when the final decisions are made in February, we will work closely with everyone affected to make sure the needs of the people we support remain our top priority.'