Julie Morgan AM

Disability News Service: Welsh government ignores social care funding crisis… in independent living action plan #SaveWILG

The following is an article written by John Pring on his excellent Disability News Service website. This can be accessed by clicking here. 

I have been put in a difficult position following the publication of the Welsh Government’s new framework on independent living – Action On Disability – The Right to Independent Living.

I have been extremely critical of this new legislation, but I want to make it very clear that this is a separate issue to my WILG campaign. I will be forever grateful to the Welsh Government for listening to campaigners and acting decisively. Our new First Minister and the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services deserve particular praise for their hard work and determination to protect a vulnerable section of society.

However, I hope both Mark Drakeford and Julie Morgan can appreciate why I  have to speak out against the new framework due to the lack of consideration of social care. I am a proud member of the Labour Party and fully support the vast majority of the party’s policies, but I reserve the right to be critical of specific programmes and will campaign to improve them.

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The Welsh government has completely ignored the social care funding crisis in a new action plan aimed at ensuring disabled people’s right to independent living.

A public consultation process with disabled people and disability organisations led to “multiple calls” for increased social care funding.

But the final version of the Labour government’s framework and action plan on the right to independent living – which includes 55 actions – says nothing about the funding crisis or the need for more spending on adult social care.

This contrasts with its 2013 framework, which it replaces and which included lengthy sections on access to social care, direct payments and personalised support.

In discussing the engagement process, which took place in 2017, with further engagement late last year on a draft version of the framework, the document says: “We heard that cuts to social care provision have led to lower allocations for Direct Payments which means disabled adults and young people are becoming increasingly isolated and impact to their well-being compromised.”

It also admits that there were “multiple calls for increased funding for health and social care” during that process.

But despite those calls, not one of the 55 actions in the plan mentions social care funding, or the need to address the cuts.

Instead, the action plan details wider measures around independent living, including: barriers to employment; recruitment of disabled apprentices; a review of funding for housing adaptations; collecting evidence on disability poverty; and improving access to health services.

It also includes a planned review of the disabled students’ allowance system; a pledge to improve understanding of the social model of disability across the Welsh government; and action on access to public transport.

There is also a pledge to introduce a scheme in Wales to provide financial support for the extra costs of disabled people seeking election to local councils, to match schemes in Scotland and England.

Nathan Lee Davies, a leading disabled campaigner who has helped secure concessions from the Welsh government on the impact of the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), said the omission was “bemusing” and appeared to be a “major step backwards”.

A spokesperson for the Welsh government refused to comment on the failure to mention cuts to social care funding in the action plan.

But Jane Hutt, the Welsh government’s deputy minister and chief whip, who has responsibility for equality issues, said in announcing the new framework that “supporting people to live their lives in the way they choose is the right thing to do”.

She said the framework sets out how the government was fulfilling its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

But the failure of the action plan to suggest any measures to address the funding crisis and cuts to support suggests the Welsh government could be in breach of the convention’s article 19.

Article 19 says that governments signed up to the convention should take “effective and appropriate measures” to enable disabled people to live in the community with “full inclusion and participation”.

Despite this omission, the framework pledges to “work for continuous improvement in how Wales fulfils its obligations with regard to [UNCRPD] and the Rights of the Child”.

There is also no mention in the document of ILF, and the Welsh government’s decision to close its interim Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) scheme, which it had been running as a stopgap with UK government transition funding since ILF closed in June 2015.

WILG closed on 31 March 2018, when the £27 million a year funding provided by the UK government to maintain support to former ILF recipients transferred to local authorities in Wales.

Because of the WILG closure, Welsh local authorities are now solely responsible for meeting the support needs of all former ILF-recipients.

More than 1,200 former ILF recipients will now have their needs met through council funding, while 50 of them have requested an independent assessment of their new support package, a process being funded by the Welsh government following a campaign led by Davies over concerns about post-WILG support.

A Welsh government spokesperson said: “The Welsh Independent Living Grant was introduced as an interim measure to support people who received payments from the UK government’s Independent Living Fund which closed in 2015.

“Our new framework focuses on the future of independent living in Wales, and what Welsh government can do to support disabled people going forward.”

Davies said: “On the face of it the new framework that has been introduced by the Welsh government, following a lengthy consultation process, is as bemusing as it was when [the draft version] was originally launched last year.

“It seems as if I wasted my breath at two consultation days as many of the failings of the framework that I highlighted have failed to be addressed in a [document] that does not seem to address the needs of disabled people with high support needs.

“Social care does not seem to be addressed at all. This is an absolutely bizarre situation when discussing a framework supposedly designed to promote independent living for disabled people.

“Not one of the 55 actions in the action plan mentioned social care funding, which is extremely worrying.”

He added: “After achieving success with the #SaveWILG Campaign – where former ILF recipients have been offered the opportunity of an independent assessment if they disagreed with the decision of the local authority, all funded by the Welsh government – it was hoped that this would signal a change in attitude going forward.

“The dynamic brand of 21st century socialism introduced by first minister Mark Drakeford has delivered positive change that deserves to be recognised.”

But he said the new framework and action plan “seems like a major step backwards”.

He added: “It just seems that the socialist values that the Welsh government demonstrated with their reaction to the WILG campaign have not been utilised in the new framework.

“It does not sit well with me to criticise this new [document], but the fact that it seems to blatantly flaunt the UNCRPD article 19 is a major cause for concern.

“It would be very easy for me to ignore this as WILG recipients have now been protected, but as a disabled activist I remain vigilant to the needs of my disabled brothers and sisters across Wales.

“All disabled people with high support needs should be able to access adequate social care and I will not rest until justice prevails for those in need.”

Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales (DW), who led the national steering group on the framework, welcomed its publication, particularly “the renewed commitment to implementation of the [UNCRPD] and consideration of options to incorporate this and other UN treaties in Welsh law together with a stronger focus on the social model of disability and proposals to tackle the disability employment gap and support disabled people to take up positions in public life.”

But she added: “Some aspects of the action plan are stronger and more developed than others, often in those areas where disabled people have been closely involved in informing and influencing policy.

“With regard to social care, there appear to be relatively few initiatives cited in the action plan compared with other policy areas.

“Key issues raised during the consultation are omitted, including low take-up of direct payments, provision of advocacy services, WILG developments and the impact of austerity on social care as a whole.

“We understand that the action plan is a work in progress so DW will continue to press for these issues to be addressed, including through Welsh government’s Disability Equality Forum which plays a vital role in monitoring implementation of the framework.”

The Final Furlong #SaveWILG

I am up to my neck in negotiations with my local authority over emergency payments for my depleted Direct Payments account. It has taken a beating over the past six months, as I have been using it to fund the 24/7 support that I so desperately need. I had saved quite a sum to be used in such a situation – it was always going to happen, due to the fact that I live with a progressive disability and had not been fully reassessed since 2010.

I am pleased to report that, having met with the Head of Adult Social Care, WCBC have agreed to make the relevant payments to ensure that I can continue to receive the support I need, at least until the end of my forthcoming WILG reassessment.

There is one thing that I would like to make clear to WCBC and all local authorities. One of the meetings I recently had with WCBC, through up the question of where the additional funds that I am now in desperate need of, would come from? I was shocked and disappointed that WCBC and a number of other local authorities, do not seem to grasp the fact that the #SaveWILG campaign that I led, resulted in the Welsh Government agreeing to fund any extra costs incurred. This was clearly outlined in a written statement on the future of WILG payments, made by the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services, Julie Morgan on the 18th of July:

I would remind Members that the cost of these independent care assessments, and any additional support for people that might be identified from them, will be met by the Welsh Government. This is so that there can be no question of changes being made to people’s care and support as a cost cutting measure. The under-pinning principle of my approach is to ensure that outcomes reached are consistent with supporting people’s agreed well-being outcomes.

It is important that all local authorities realise that Ministers have agreed to fund any increased care costs that may arise from the outcome of an independent assessment.

Even though the #SaveWILG campaign has been extremely critical of local authorities in Wales over the past four years when dealing with WILG recipients, we have actually assisted cash-strapped councils by reducing the amount they are expected to pay to support disabled people with high support needs across Wales.

WILG recipients and their supporters need to remember this fact, and hammer it home when confronted by adult social care professionals who do not keep up with the news, or realise just what an impact the #SaveWILG campaign has had. The Welsh Government has actually done something pretty special and deserve all the credit in the world. They have listened to our fears, read the evidence we collected and acted decisively. Sadly, there is little room for any positive news in the media at the moment, as we are all obsessed with the actions of a Conservative Muppet and the mess he is making of the BREXIT debacle.

All we need to do now, is remind all local authorities of the changes that have been introduced…

WALESPOSTCARDFRONT001

 

Written Statement by Julie Morgan AM #SaveWILG

I have just received this Written Statement by Julie Morgan AM, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services. It is an update on the current situation regarding the Independent Care Assessments that the #SaveWILG Campaign insisted upon.

This is another positive step forward and it is encouraging that the end is now in sight…

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TITLE: Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) – Update on Independent Care Assessments

DATE: 18 July 2019

BY: Julie Morgan AM, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services

In February I announced a change of approach in the way that people who used to receive payments under the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) were in future to access their support from their local authority’s social services. This is an update on the arrangements I am introducing.

It is paramount that people’s ability to live independently is not compromised by changes to the way their care and support is arranged and provided. It was for this reason that I decided that those people who used to receive payments under the WILG should have the opportunity of an independent care and support assessment if they are unhappy with the outcome of their local authority care and support assessment. Those assessments are being undertaken to agree with people the wellbeing outcomes they wish to achieve to live independently and to agree how these would be met.

While the majority of people who used to receive WILG payments are content with the care and support they are now receiving, where people are unhappy with the outcome of care assessment the ability to have an independent care assessment would provide for a second opinion. It also restores for them the tripartite decision making arrangement that existed under the Independent Living Fund (ILF) of recipient, independent ILF social worker and local authority social worker. This was something that the “#Save the WILG campaign” was very keen to have restored.

I am pleased to report that we have made good progress in putting in place the arrangements for these independent care assessments. I wrote in April to all former WILG recipients informing them of their ability to have an independent care assessment and explained my reasons for providing this opportunity. If people wanted an independent assessment, I asked them to contact their local authority by 14 June to request this, so we could gauge the level of interest. By that date 55 requests had been made across 14 local authorities. This is out of approaching 1,400 people in Wales who received payments from the WILG. This would seem to confirm our understanding that the vast majority of former WILG recipients are content with the outcome of the care assessment they had and the subsequent care and support they are receiving. However, it does also confirm that I was right to introduce this change of approach

for what is a significant number of people who have concerns about the outcome of their care assessment.

We have in addition completed a procurement exercise to secure an organisation to recruit and manage the independent social workers required to undertake these assessments. These social workers will be suitability qualified and experienced to perform this task, being registered as such on the relevant register maintained by Social Care Wales. They would consequently be well versed in the ethos and requirements of our Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 and the regulations and code of practice we have made under this in relation to care assessments and meeting care needs. They would not, however, be employed by a local authority in Wales so as to maintain their independence.

Following evaluation of the bids received for this contract, ICS Assessment Services Ltd. has now been appointed to organise and undertake the independent care and support assessments requested. ICS has significant experience in both social care and undertaking assessments, having worked previously with a range of local authorities across Wales and England. Officials have met with representatives of ICS, the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru and the Welsh Local Government Association, to agree the process that will be followed to complete the independent assessments and to work through the practicalities associated with this. This is well advanced so that the arrangements to begin to undertake ICS assessments should be in place by the end of this month. I will be writing shortly to those former WILG recipients who have requested an independent care and support assessment be update them in more detail on this and to confirm what they need to do to pursue their assessment.

I would remind Members that the cost of these independent care assessments, and any additional support for people that might be identified from them, will be met by the Welsh Government. This is so that there can be no question of changes being made to people’s care and support as a cost cutting measure. The under-pinning principle of my approach is to ensure that outcomes reached are consistent with supporting people’s agreed wellbeing outcomes.

I appreciate that establishing these arrangements has taken some time. However, it is imperative that we put in place properly considered arrangements. The “#Save the WILG Campaign” has been supportive of the approach I am taking, as we share a common interest in seeing changes implemented properly.

I will update Members as further progress is made.

WALESPOSTCARDFRONT001

Disability News Service: Appeal to hundreds across Wales to seek independent assessments of support needs #SaveWILG

The following article was written by John Pring and appears on the excellent Disability News Service website, which can be accessed by clicking here.

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A disabled campaigner is encouraging hundreds of recipients of support through the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) scheme to consider taking up the government’s offer of an independent re-assessment of their care package.

The Welsh government announced in February that it was pausing the closure of the WILG scheme – and its replacement with a system of council-funded support – following a campaign by disabled activists and allies.

Julie Morgan, the Welsh government’s deputy minister for health and social services, then wrote last month to all WILG recipients to tell them they could ask for a reassessment of their care package if they were unhappy with the outcome of their local authority’s assessment of their post-WILG needs or if that assessment had not yet taken place.

And she assured them that the Welsh government would pay for the independent assessment and any extra care and support they might need as a result.

Morgan has now written to Nathan Lee Davies, the WILG recipient who led the campaign to halt the closure of the scheme, updating him on the government’s progress.

She told him that only 26 WILG recipients had so far requested a re-assessment, across 10 local authorities.

Morgan said in her letter: “It is important that those people who wish to have an independent assessment are able to access it, but this is also in the context of the large number of people who we know are content with their new arrangements.”

Davies believes about 1,300 disabled people are eligible for a re-assessment, and fears that many WILG recipients are being held back from requesting a re-assessment.

He is now calling on all those WILG recipients who are not happy with their care and support package to ask for an independent assessment.

Davies, who has himself requested an independent assessment, said: “I started this campaign four years ago, after a social worker warned me that without the WILG my hours of support would be reduced from 86.5 hours a week to just 31 hours per week.

“I would be unable to maintain any quality of life without a substantial increase in my support and any reduction would leave me struggling to exist rather than living the life that I choose.

“The use of an independent social worker allows me to be assessed purely on my physical and mental needs.

“I feel that social workers from local authorities are under pressure from their managers to reduce costs, whatever the consequences.

“Assessments are therefore skewed from the outset and I fear that a number of WILG recipients are not receiving the support they deserve.

“Let’s not forget that all WILG recipients are disabled people with high support needs.

“This means that many need a strong network of people around them to give them the confidence to press for improvements.

“The fact that only 26 people have asked for a reassessment suggests that many WILG recipients are being held back by a combination of inertia, lack of support and advice and a sense of ‘better the devil you know’.

“I feel that an independent service will provide people with disabilities with greater security for the future.”

He added: “The government have listened to campaigners, reviewed the evidence and acted accordingly to ensure people get the support they deserve to live independently within their local communities.

“WILG recipients and their families need to investigate the opportunity that is in front of them to help ensure they have piece of mind for the long term future.”

WILG was set up – with UK government funding – as an interim scheme following the UK government’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund in June 2015.

The Welsh government is now closing WILG for good and transferring the funding to local councils, and by April the 22 local authorities were due to be solely responsible for meeting the support needs of all former ILF-recipients in Wales.

But Morgan announced the “change in direction” in February because a government review had shown a significant variation in how support packages were being cut by different councils.

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#SaveWILG Update: Letter from Julie Morgan

I received the following letter from the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services to update me on the progress of WILG assessments.

It makes for interesting reading. I will be writing in response to this letter soon, but for now I think it is important to make sure that everyone is fully informed of their rights.

Thanks to Julie Morgan as ever for her sterling work in making the independent assessments, a reality.

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Dear Nathan

Following my letter of 18th of April to former recipients of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) regarding their ability to have an independent care assessment, I thought I would provide you with a brief update.

All local authorities have now have confirmed that they have circulated my letter to their former WILG recipients.  Clearly people will need time to consider whether to have an independent assessment.   I have asked recipients to let their local authority know their intentions by 14th June.  To date, I understand that twenty-six former recipients have expressed an interest in having an independent assessment of their care needs.  These are spread across ten authorities.

This number may well increase over the next three weeks.  It is important that those people who wish to have an independent assessment are able to access it, but this is also in the context of the large number of people who we know are content with their new arrangements.

As regards to the sourcing [of] the independent assessments, the tender process is about to close.  The bids we receive will be evaluated against bidders’ ability to meet quality and timeliness criteria, including to ensure the appropriate standard of social workers for the assessments are recruited.  This is with a view to a contract being agreed in early June, with the practical arrangements being finalised during June, for the assessments themselves to commence from July.

I trust this is helpful.  Please feel free to communicate this information to your network of former WILG recipients.

Yours sincerely

Julie Morgan AM
Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services

WALESPOSTCARDFRONT001

BBC Report: Wales disability support cuts: Care to be re-assessed in July #SaveWILG

Elderly man in wheelchair

Re-assessments of severely disabled people unhappy with their care packages will not begin before July.

The Welsh Independent Living Grant has ended with councils funding care for more than 1,000 people receiving it.

In February, the Welsh Government announced anyone unhappy with their new council care package would be offered independent re-assessments.

Plaid Cymru said the wait was “way too long”. The Welsh Government has been asked to respond to the criticism.

In response to a Freedom of Information request, the Welsh Government told BBC Wales it has set aside up to £60,000 to pay an independent organisation to do the reassessments.

It anticipates the contract will be awarded by the end of June and re-assessments will begin in July.

£2.4m per year has also been budgeted, “for planning purposes”, to cover the potential costs of any increased packages.

157 people out of 1,174 assessed by their councils by the end of last year had had their support reduced.

There have been big regional variations, with cuts most common in Wrexham, Newport and Ceredigion.

Julie Morgan

The WILG was introduced in Wales to replace the UK-wide Independent Living Fund (ILF), which was closed down by the UK government in 2015.

In a letter to ex-WILG recipients, Deputy Minister for Social Services Julie Morgan said their “patience” would be appreciated.

“I do not want people to be waiting for an independent assessment,” she said.

“However, it is important to organise these independent assessments properly, so that they meet the required standards.”

Plaid Cymru’s social justice spokeswoman Leanne Wood questioned whether the reassessments were necessary.

“Initially many of these people were given an award for life and going through a reassessment process is extremely stressful,” she said.

“Particularly if you have a condition that everybody knows is not going to improve, it’s only going to deteriorate.

“So putting people through those reassessments is potentially problematic but at the same time this does need to be resolved quickly.”

‘Irresponsible’

Nathan Davies, a Labour member and founder of the Save WILG campaign, said the wait was “inconvenient” but criticised the previous Welsh Labour Government, led by Carwyn Jones, which made the initial decision to transfer the responsibility to councils.

“The fact that they [the current Welsh Government] are having to do this work now is because the previous neo-liberal regime did not listen to our campaign team and disregarded the evidence that we presented.

“The fact that we are having to endure an uncomfortable few months is totally down to them and a number of irresponsible local authorities.”

You can see more on this story on the BBC Wales Live programme at 22:30 BST on Wednesday BBC One Wales, and then on BBC iPlayer

Open Letter from Daughter of WILG Recipient #SaveWILG

I received the following email from Carmarthenshire-based Tracey Howells, the daughter of a WILG recipient. The following should provide hope and support for anyone wanting to oppose decisions made by local authorities. 

Those of you who have been following this blog closely, will not be surprised to read about yet more incompetence from local authorities. The good news for Tracey is that the Welsh Government have listened and responded to the #SaveWILG campaign by pausing the transition and introducing a new policy to protect WILG recipients. Full details can be read here.

This blog will be added to the WILG Voices page to demonstrate the dangers of relying on local authorities for responsible social care provision while underlining the dangers of neo-Liberalism.

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RE: ILF /WILG Myra Howells Social Services assessment with a reduction of 65% to her support package.

I feel that I must share the complications and distress my mother is experiencing with Carmarthenshire Council Social Services’ initiative to move her away from the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG). This transition remains unsuccessful and particularly unsettling to date, and I hope that by raising your awareness, it can help change the way this is being rolled out to alleviate the inevitable stress and anxiety it’s causing to all undergoing such assessments.

My mother is registered partially sighted and has been diagnosed with MS for almost 40 years. She has received ILF /WILG for many years and this has proved a major lifeline for her over this time. Indeed, she has taken great comfort from a protected ILF status, being one of a small number of recipients protected from losing the ILF until it finally closed.

The assessment with Carmarthenshire Council Social Services has now been completed, resulting in the proposal to drastically reduce my mother’s hours down from 34 hrs to 12 hrs a week. As such, this represents is a 65% reduction which we cannot accept. This reduction does not reflect the care and support she needs to enjoy her basic quality of life. We really feel that this is a disgraceful proposal, representing an arbitrary cut to meet budget targets, and relying on the assumption that any shortfall will be made up by goodwill and support from family and friends. As such, this approach goes against the fundamental principles of supporting and enabling our most vulnerable in society.

Background
My mother is severely disabled, retaining only the use of her left hand, head and neck. Nonetheless, she still has a very strong personality and knows what she wants. She is fiercely independent, managing to remain living at home and supported with her care partly from Social Services, and partly from employing personal assistants (PA).

During November 2011, my mother’s physical health deteriorated rapidly and she was in and out of Hospital for long periods of time. She was experiencing a lot of falls and incidents and to support her, I gave up a job I loved in S4C based in Cardiff to work closer to home. Unfortunately however, her condition continued to deteriorate and in July 2016, I moved to part-time hours, working 3 days a week and becoming one of my mother’s PA for a remaining 2 1/2 days. To date, this has worked very well and my mother has retained her spirit and independence, and has not been admitted to hospital since.

In November 2018,  a social worker for Carmarthenshire Council contacted me to request a review with my mother. At first, this wasn’t out of the ordinary because my mother did have occasional reviews with social services. The social worker called to see my mother in early December and quite early on in the meeting it became clear that the review was financial, clearly focusing on the ILF payments. This was extremely frustrating because a financial review was never mentioned at any time prior to the meeting, and as a consequence we were inadequately prepared for the detail of the questions. Further, the fundamental objective of the review became very clear during the discussion. When I confirmed to the social worker how much money my mother was getting from the ILF and how it was being spent, her immediate response was to tell me that my mother’s money would be cut and she wouldn’t get anywhere near what she was having now. This was even before she asked my mother any questions about her needs! Subsequent detailed questions focused on what I did for my mother, where again my answers were hampered by a lack of time to adequately prepare. At the end of the review, both my mother and I were left feeling deflated, anxious and annoyed at being unable to provide complete answers to the many questions. We really felt that social services had acted very unfairly by not disclosing the nature of the review to ensure we could not adequately prepare.

Within two weeks, we were contacted again by the social worker for a second review because she needed further information to complete the review. I explained that if she had been open and honest with me on the first phone call regarding the nature of the review, I could have prepared the care plan and we wouldn’t now have to put my mother through a second assessment. The second review was arranged and I prepared a full care plan of the weekly duties my mother’s PAs (including myself) performed. During the review, I kept being told by the social worker that the majority of the things I did for my mother was expected of me as a family member! Also, my mother has a cleaner once a week for 4 hrs who cleans the house and we were told that they wouldn’t support this, but rather they would get a firm in to clean the bathroom for hygiene purposes if needed. My further explanation that the cleaner’s been with my mother for 20 years, becoming close friends from the same village and providing a direct link to her community also failed to gather any consideration.

I have asked twice for a breakdown of how they’ve worked out the new hours, but simply been told that the assessment has determined that 1 PA for 12hrs a week is all that is required. When I asked about the appeals process, I was told there isn’t one and only a complaints procedure. I therefore asked for my mother to be reassessed by a different social worker and another visited on the 8th March. The recommendation from that meeting was that we have an independent assessment, and we are still awaiting this.

Currently, we are therefore in limbo awaiting the next WILG payment due on 19.04.2019, which of course at this stage, we are not even sure will proceed. This is naturally causing a lot of stress and anxiety for my mother and the family, and I’m sure we are not alone in going through such issues. Such practices impact the most vulnerable in our communities and need escalation to ensure we do not lose sight of the fundamental principles behind our social services. In this case, my mother is one of the luckier ones to rely on me to fight on her behalf, and I feel particularly sorry for any elderly and disabled who must be facing such arbitrary cuts all alone.
If you would like any other information please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Kind regards
Tracey Howells

Email: traceylh123@hotmail.com

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