'We will fight this attack on lifeline'
Pensioners and disabled people will be trapped in their homes under plans to more than double day centre fees, it was warned last night.
Oxfordshire County Council is looking at raising daily fees from £10 to £25 at its seven centres, including Oxford, Abingdon, Bicester and Didcot.
Charges are currently £5 for food, £4.18 for entry and 82p for transport.
But the council is now proposing £15 to attend, £5 for lunch and £5 for transport, netting an estimated £2.1m over three years.
Critics said lonely OAPs risked losing a lifeline, while the council admitted centres could be at risk if people shun them.
It is the latest in a list of ways pensioners are being squeezed.
Age UK Oxfordshire chief executive Paul Cann said: “The danger is that a significant number will say ‘it is too much, I will stay at home’.
“You have energy prices rising all the time, the price of food and fuel is going up. It all adds up to a bit of a deterrent.
“They will go downhill rapidly and go into expensive care homes.”
Bicester Resource Centre user Bernard Bovingdon, 76, said many depended on the facility.
He said: “Without it they would have nothing. It is the only source of contact with the outside world.”
The Upper Heyford resident said: “When governments find themselves in financial trouble, they look to see who they can hit and take money off with the least resistance – and they pick on old people.
“They are upstanding, hard- working citizens and to dish out this kind of punishment at the end of their lives grossly unfair.”
The retired engineer said he was fortunate to have a private pension – but others will not be so lucky and face missing out on activities like IT sessions, hairdressing and quizzes.
He said: “We will fight this.”
Some 1,687 people currently use the centres in Oxfordshire every year.
Council spokesman Marcus Mabberley said of those, 1,171 people were eligible for a means-tested personal budget from the council which they could use towards day centre costs.
But people do not get extra money just because they attend a day centre and it is up to individuals whether they use that cash on the service.
Mr Mabberley said: “The council and therefore the taxpayer is paying for people who have not got eligible needs for this type of care and support.”
He said the change would be closer to the “general market rate” and extra cash would make centres more viable and improve.
But a report by the county’s head of strategy and transformation Simon Kearey warned the day centres could be at risk if the charges backfired.
He said: “The future viability of the day centres will be predicated on the generation of income from service users who are self-funders.
“Some clients will not have the money to attend.”
Mr Mabberley said some nearby councils charged more for day centres. A consultation will be held on a date yet to be set later this year.
The centres are: Oxford Options Resource and Wellbeing Centre, Awgar Stone Road; Abingdon Resource and Wellbeing Centre, Audlett Drive; Banbury Day Centre, Britannia Road; Bicester Resource and Wellbeing Centre, Launton Road; Didcot Day Centre, Britwell Road; Wallingford Day Centre, Millington Road and Wantage Day Centre, Stirlings Close.
l Care homes: The county council is working to cut £38m from its adult social care budget and sees putting fewer OAPs into care homes as vital to cutting costs. Care home leaders say the council does not pay enough to cover fees, meaning some pensioners are turned away.
l Fuel bills: Average home energy bills have risen by 73 per cent since 2005, though household incomes have only increased by 20 per cent.
l Pensions: The state pension age will rise from 65 to 67 in 2026 and the £102.15-a-week payment will rise by £5.30 from next month. Age UK called the rise a “bitter blow”.
l Petrol: The Oxford Mail reported recently how unleaded prices had hit a high of 140.9p with an average county price of 136.1p. Average prices hit a £1 a litre in October 2007. Calls have been made for Chancellor George Osborne to scrap a 3p fuel duty increase set for August.