Lawyers await high court judgments on legal actions against council plans to cut social care
Karen McVeigh, The Guardian,
May 10, 2011
Disabled people are using the courts to challenge multimillion-pound spending cuts which they say will hit them hardest.
They have launched a number of legal actions against council plans to slash vital support services after cuts in government funding.
As disabled people, their families and carers, which organisers expect in their thousands, gear up to demonstrate in Westminster in
protest against the cuts to their jobs and services on Wednesday, lawyers in test cases said they were looking forward to a decision in the high court next week.
In a judicial review brought by the families of four severely disabled people which is being keenly followed by the caring community, a judge ruled last
month that Birmingham city council’s plans to limit social care for disabled people are unlawful.
The local authority, a Conservative-Liberal coalition, hopes to save £17.5m from its budget this year by limiting council-funded social care only to those
assessed as in “critical” need.
But in an interim judgment, Mr Justice Walker ruled that the council business plan was unlawful because it failed to comply with section 49a of the
Disability Discrimination Act.
Karen Ashton, solicitor for three of the four families involved in the Birmingham judicial review, said: “The judge found both the policy decision to move
to a critical-only eligibility policy and the council’s cuts budget – as it relates to that policy change – to be unlawful. We won’t know the full implications
of this until the full judgment is handed down in the next couple of weeks. But all councils will have to take on board the fact that budget setting is
not just a political decision.”
In a similar action in Lancashire, a disabled woman and the parents of two disabled children, boy A and boy D, have launched high court proceedings against their local council. The woman is challenging cuts to adult social care and possible cuts to her own care package.
The authority must save £179m in the next three years, with a significant amount coming from its care budget. It does not accept criticisms of its budget
But Melanie Close, chief executive of Disability Equality, said: “It feels like they’re not listening to people. It feels like they’re not looking at what
impact this will have.
“It’s really unusual for an organisation like ours to challenge something like this. We were really pleased by the Birmingham decision and it has given
us a lot of hope.” She added: “It would be a fantastic decision for us if the budget would be judged illegal.”
Lawyers say that they are unclear about the full implications of the Birmingham test case until the judgment is handed down, but some say that there is
a possibility that the budget itself may be ruled illegal.
Mathieu Culverhouse, of Irwin Mitchell, representing all three claimants in the Lancashire case and one of the claimants in the Birmingham case, said: “We’re waiting for the judgment in the Birmingham case which we think will have implications on our cases in Lancashire. We’re anticipating that the Birmingham judgment will be very useful.”
On Wednesday a protest, dubbed the Hardest Hit march, is being co-ordinated by hundreds of disabled people’s organisations and charities and groups including Scope, Leonard Cheshire Disability, Mencap, the RNIB and Sense. Organisers say that disabled people will be hit disproportionately hard by the cuts, which, they estimate, could result in families losing £9bn of support over the next four years.
The rally will begin on Victoria Embankment and move to Westminster. Protesters will then lobby MPs in Westminster Hall and Methodist Central Hall.