A landmark legal victory for four disabled people could open the door for others across the country to challenge their local authorities over cuts to care services.
The court case was brought by the families of four disabled people who had been told by Birmingham City Council in April that any of their care needs that were not “critical” would no longer be funded.
Handing down his full judgement in the case, Mr Justice Walker said the setting of the council’s budget and its decision to tighten its eligibility policy from “substantial” to “critical” were unlawful because they failed to have due regard to promoting equality under the Disability Discrimination Act.
He also found that the council’s attempts at a consultation over its plans had been flawed and “had not involved any attempt to look at the practical detail of what the move to ‘critical only’ would entail”.
And he said the council had failed to consider what other “alternative resources in the community would be available for those with substantial needs” or identify any other steps to “mitigate the impact on disabled people”.
The judge also concluded that the consultation process had not been clear about who would be affected by the cuts and what their options would be if they had their care packages removed.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said many other councils had already restricted care to those with “critical needs”, leaving people without the support they needed to live independently.
An EHRC spokeswoman said: “Not providing care to those who clearly need it fails to protect some of our most basic human rights – having a decent quality of life and being treated with dignity and respect.
“It denies disabled people the right to choose how to live their own lives and the freedom to make their own choices.”
The EHRC is already investigating whether councils are protecting the human rights of older people in England who receive care and support at home, and is set to report its findings later this year.
Polly Sweeney, a solicitor with the firm Irwin Mitchell, which represented one of the four claimants, said it was a “hugely important victory” for the thousands of people affected by the proposed cuts across Birmingham.
She added: “Birmingham City Council is the UK’s largest local authority and it’s very likely that this outcome will set a precedent for other cases in other parts of the UK where councils may be targeting vulnerable groups through cost-cutting drives.”
Peter Hay, the council’s strategic director of adults and communities, said it would now re-run the consultation and “make decisions about adult social care consistent with the need to analyse the potential impact on disabled people and our compliance with the equality principles set out in law”.
He added: “In the meantime, people will continue to receive services to meet needs that have been assessed as substantial and critical.”
19 May 2011