Birmingham's social care cuts ruled unlawful

20 May 11
Birmingham City Council is to re-examine its plans to cut social care for some disabled adults after a High Court ruling found that it had acted unlawfully

By Richard Johnstone

20 May 2011

Birmingham City Council is to re-examine its plans to cut social care for some disabled adults after a High Court ruling found that it had acted unlawfully.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Walker found that the council’s move to fund only individuals assessed to have ‘critical’ needs would be ‘potentially devastating’ to many people with severe disabilities.

The local authority changed its eligibility policy to exclude those assessed to have ‘substantial’ needs. Yesterday’s verdict found that in doing so, it had breached its duty to give proper consideration to the impact on disabled people, as required by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

The judge said that the council needed to address ‘whether the impact on the disabled… was so serious that an alternative which was not so draconian should be identified and funded to the extent necessary by savings elsewhere’.

The judgment also found that council failed to undertake adequate consultation on its proposals.

The council has said that it will now re-run its consultation, but Stephen Hocking, a public law partner at Beachcroft solicitors, said that ‘there can be little excuse for any local authority to have got its budget proposals so badly wrong’.  

Birmingham had planned to cut £51m from its adult social care spending in 2011/12, a major part of which was to come from the change in eligibility.

Karen Ashton, of Public Law Solicitors, who represented three cases in the ruling, said that it signalled to councils that ‘in cash-strapped times such as these, the public sector must do more to avoid the consequences of cuts falling on those who are least able to bear them’.

She told Public Finance that the judgment was not about ‘a technical exercise of consultation’, adding: ‘The problem with the decision [to change care classifications] was that they didn’t get to grips with the extent of the impact on disabled people.

‘If the impact is so severe, is that compatible with the need to support equality for disabled people? And if not should they be finding these savings elsewhere?’ She said that the judgment should be examined by councils considering similar changes.

Birmingham City Council said that the judgment provided ‘greater clarity’ regarding obligations around the DDA, adding that services would continue to be provided while a new round of consultation takes place.

Peter Hay, the council’s strategic director of adults and communities, said: ‘The original dilemma between reducing services in different areas remains. There is no new money as a result of the judgment and hard choices about meeting growing needs with fewer resources will have to be made by local authorities.’

However, Hocking said that the council’s duties had ‘been clear for some years’, adding that it was ‘very concerning’ that the UK’s largest local authority ‘cannot get this right’.

He added: ‘It cannot be over-stressed: setting any budget, re-organising any service, always involves considering equality duties. There are often complex questions of balancing the needs of one group against another, in a limited timescale. Cutting corners or not taking this seriously enough can only lead to being taken to court.’

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