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Lancashire County Council face High Court challenge to care cuts

Chris Satori
A legal challenge being brought against Lancashire County Council over cuts to care services will be encouraged by a High Court ruling last week that found that Birmingham City Council had acted unlawfully over a decision to cut its provision of care for disabled people (see Guardian report)

The judgment, involving four severely disabled people who brought a test case against Birmingam CC, has widespread implications for local authorities. A disabled person's need for assistance is assessed as 'moderate', 'substantial' or 'critical'. Birmingham planned cuts to care services from all but those whose needs were described as critical.

The Lancashire County Council budget (view budget PDF), passed last January, cut services to all but those whose needs were assessed as 'substantial to critical'. These cuts were expected to save £2.5 million a year for the next two years. Lancashire also approved cuts to spending on personal budgets and home care by £12 million over three years; and to increase revenue from charging by more than £5.5 million over four years.

In practice this meant that thousands of frail elderly or disabled people lost or are to part or all of their services and many more would never come to receive them. Women were particularly affected - not just that many lost paid caring work, but also that the thousands of people, mainly women, supporting disabled friends, neighbours and relatives found their unpaid duties doubled as support was cut, and themselves struggling desperately to cope with this, work, potential redundancy and loss of income and childcare.

One severely disabled gentleman found that he was entitled to help with getting dressed -but not with going to the loo - which was reassessed as a 'health' need, for which he was referred to the NHS! Others have lost help with shopping and cleaning, not just necessary services but also vital human contact points for frail, isolated people. Respite and daycare services to children and adults were also reduced.

While the budget was approved in January, Lancashire CC began implementing them as early as last November.

Justice Walker described Birmingham's policy as potentially devastating and found that the cuts failed to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act. He said said there had been a failure to take proper account of the duty to promote equality and that, when setting its budget and altering its eligibility policy, Birmingham had not given proper consideration to the impact on disabled people and had failed to adequately consult on its proposals.

The issue Birmingham council needed to address was "whether the impact on the disabled of the move to critical only was so serious that an alternative which was not so draconian should be identified and funded to the extent necessary by savings elsewhere".

Disabled groups throughout Lancashire protested against cuts to care. In Lancaster's Dalton Square disabled groups held a candle-lit vigil and an all-Lancashire protest march took place in Preston prior to the Budget. A rally was called outside County Hall on the day the budget was passed (see report). Parents of disabled children who were facing cuts to respite care, disabled adults and carers were ejected from the council chamber after attempting to address the council and were ridiculed on BBC’s North West Tonight, by Council Leader Geoff Driver (pictured), who complacently labelled them 'rentamob'.

A disabled Lancashire woman and the parents of two disabled boys – Boy A and Boy D – are seeking judicial reviews of decisions made by Lancashire County Council (see DisabledGo report)

The woman’s case is likely to be heard by the High Court at the same time as the case brought by the parents of Boy A and Boy D over funding for respite care. Irwin Mitchell, the solicitors representing all three claimants, said the way the council had reached its decisions relating to respite care had breached the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and the Children Act.

A spokesperson for Lancashire County Council said: "We are looking carefully at the Birmingham judgement. Whilst there are some clear differences between their case and the claims brought against us, we will consider any implications it may have for us."

On Thursday 26 May at 7pm in the Gregson, Lancaster & Morecambe Against the Cuts are holding an open organising meeting to prepare for UK mass strike against public sector cuts on 30th June. "We will be organising a rally in Lancaster on the 30th June to unite all the struggles."

See also Protests Planned as County Council to Vote on Service-Slashing Budget for the care budget breakdown.
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