Lawyers Concerned This Could Be The ‘Thin Edge of the Wedge’ For Vulnerable People
Birmingham City Council is facing a High Court legal challenge on behalf of a 65-year old woman with significant learning disabilities after it announced proposals earlier this year to limit care to only those with ‘critical’ needs and remove social care for those with ‘substantial’ needs.
The woman, who is known as ‘Ms A’ in order to protect her identity, received a letter from her local Council at the beginning of February explaining that the proposals may well affect the future care and support she currently receives at her residential care home in Solihull.
Birmingham City Council sent the letter in order to explain city-wide plans aimed at reducing the amount of money it spends on adult social care. All people who will be potentially affected were contacted as part of a consultation exercise which is due to end on 2 March 2011.
Since receiving the letter, Ms A’s sister-in-law has become so concerned about the potential impact on her sibling’s well-being that she has decided to fight the plans and instruct a team of lawyers at Irwin Mitchell.
Irwin Mitchell is seeking an urgent judicial review on the lawfulness of the consultation process and believes the case is one of many where Council’s are making decisions to cut public services whilst ignoring residents’ legal rights.
“This is sadly one of a number of examples we are seeing at the moment where local Councils under pressure to cut costs are riding roughshod over the needs and legal rights of some of society’s most vulnerable individuals,” said Polly Sweeney, solicitor within the Public Law team at Irwin Mitchell’s Birmingham office.
The judicial review is being sought on the grounds that the Council has failed to undertake a lawful consultation and pay due regards to the need of promoting equality under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
Irwin Mitchell also considers that the claimant’s human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) could be severely compromised as the proposals threaten her right to a private life and her ability to access essential support and care to enable her to live safely and maintain a level of independence.
Ms A’s sister in law said: “I’m deeply concerned about what impact this will have and it’s important to take a stand here. She relies on the Council’s support to assist her with daily living skills and to support and promote her independence, including assisting with personal care tasks, preparation of meals and safely accessing the community. The care is hugely beneficial and without it her quality of life would fall dramatically.”
According to Irwin Mitchell, the consultation proposal document which seeks to exclude providing care for those with ‘substantial’ care needs fails to meet legal requirements in a number of areas – particularly its lack of clarity in relation to which groups will be affected and what the options for those people who will have their care package removed are.
Irwin Mitchell also questions whether the Council has considered alternatives such as raising Council Tax and indeed whether it needs to make the cuts in the first place.
Here they highlight Government minister, Grant Shapps, who earlier this year said that the Supporting People Programme – one of the principal ways in which vulnerable people are protected - was facing only a 2.7% cut. The minister went on to say that there is no reason for local authorities to use the need to reduce public sector borrowing as an excuse to cut services to vulnerable people. The Care Minister Paul Burstow has also said that there is no justification for local authorities to ‘slash and burn’ or for local authorities to tighten eligibility as far as the settlement goes.
Ms Sweeney added: “Birmingham City Council’s consultation process has been poorly carried out and it appears to be completely unfair on those people and families that are affected.
“The letter sent out by the Council is difficult to understand and fails to take into consideration that the target audience have learning difficulties or disabilities. The information is vague and I think it is unreasonable to expect someone reading it to make an informed response.”
Discussing the legal aspect to the case, Polly said: “All the options for the citizens of Birmingham have not been presented to them. Cutting vital care provision for the disabled and elderly has not been properly justified. Significantly, the proposals fail to have due regard to human rights and the need to promote disability equality - a legal requirement under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
Ms Sweeney added: “Although we accept that the Council is forced to make difficult decisions in relation to the allocation of its budget and this is part of a legitimate aim to create economic well being for the UK as a whole, we do not accept that the proposed changes to the provision of adult social care are proportionate to that aim.
“We have been in touch with the Council to request specific information in relation to some of the points raised in the Council’s initial document. We have also asked that the consultation process be put on hold and the process revised in line with our recommendations. Unfortunately, we have not been satisfied with their response and therefore our client has no other option but to launch proceedings.”
The case will come to court on Monday unless the council agree to keep funds in reserve when the budget is up for approval at the Council on Tuesday 1st March 2010.
In addition to this case in Birmingham, Irwin Mitchell is currently acting for a number of other vulnerable people in other parts of the UK who have received similar letters from their local councils.