Years of lobbying from disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), backed up by research and evidence, appears to have persuaded a local authority to adopt a new, rights-based approach to addressing the social care crisis.
A report by Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Future of Adult Social Care Commission (FASCC) includes a series of recommendations that – if agreed by the council and its partners – could transform provision of adult social care in the borough.
They include a call to embed co-production of policy across the council; to review adult social care charging, including the basis for those charges; to increase the number of disabled people receiving direct payments; and to provide disability, equality and inclusion training to all its staff.
Early this year, the council confirmed, in response to a freedom of information request, that it had charged nearly 2,500 individuals for non-residential social care in 2020-21, with the council receiving more than £5.4 million from charges.
The response also revealed that, by January 2022, 916 of the council’s service-users had had debt recovery action taken against them in 2021-22.
The figures had been obtained by Cheshire Disabled People Against Cuts (CDPAC) and Inclusion London, whose research showed that tens of thousands of disabled people across England were having debt collection action taken against them every year by their local authorities over unpaid care charges.
This information was passed by CDPAC and other members of Cheshire Disabled People’s Panel (CDPP) to the council.
Now the social care commission has recommended that the council takes an approach to debt recovery that is “responsible and responds to the financial and social vulnerability of residents”.
It also calls on the council to review how it applies the minimum income guarantee (MIG) and the personal expenses allowance (PEA), both key elements of the social care charging regime.
The commission included six cross-party councillors and representatives of the NHS and the voluntary sector.
Among those who gave oral evidence to the commission were disabled people from CDPP and a local DPO, Disability Positive, as well as Hammersmith and Fulham council, and Greater Manchester Disabled People’s Panel (GMDPP), which have both carried out pioneering work on coproduction of public sector policy by disabled people.
Cheshire West and Chester Council has already approved a motion – proposed by Labour councillor Val Armstrong, who chaired the commission – to “adopt” the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and to work with disabled people to implement its articles in the council’s work.
Now there are hopes that the council and its partners on Cheshire West and Chester Health and Wellbeing Board – which includes local NHS bodies, Cheshire Police, and Healthwatch Cheshire West and Chester – will implement the commission’s recommendations.
Cheshire DPAC said the council’s pledge to implement UNCRPD was “a really significant development” for its disabled residents.
A Cheshire DPAC spokesperson said: “We and our Cheshire Disabled People’s Panel colleagues are ready to work with the council to make ‘nothing about us, without us’ a reality.
“DPOs have lobbied the authority for the past two years, calling for a better deal for disabled people – in particular, for disabled residents on low incomes, especially those unable to earn income and those with statutory care needs.”
She said: “Central government has shamelessly allowed both statutory rates [MIG and PEA] to lose real terms value for years, and we call on all local authorities to get their acts together and do much more to uphold the well-being principle for local service-users.
“The report does not go far enough on these fronts, but CDPAC are pleased with the FASCC report’s strategic recommendations to undertake a review of adult social care charging, including the basis for charges, and of the MIG and PEA.”
And she said Cheshire DPAC “cautiously” welcomed the council’s pledge to take a “responsible” approach to care charge debt recovery.
Cllr Armstrong, the council’s cabinet member for adult social care and health, said the aim of the commission was “to bring together councillors, health and voluntary sector colleagues and those who draw on or provide care to ask how we can best enable people to live the lives they want.
“Understanding everyone’s perspective is key to creating the kind of sustainable and responsive support and care that we would want for ourselves, our families, friends and neighbours.
“The final report was warmly received by cabinet two weeks ago and since then we have moved quickly to adopt the [UNCRPD] at council.
“We have shared the report with our partners on the health and wellbeing board, who will all look at how it can be implemented within their organisations over the coming months.
“The next step is to create and implement an action plan that will bring the report’s recommendations to life for the real benefit of our residents.”
Lynne Turnbull, chief executive of Disability Positive, said: “As members of Cheshire Disabled People’s Panel, we provided the council with some key recommendations, and I’m really pleased to see that the report makes commitments to implementing some of these, including incorporating the social model of disability and signing up to the UNCRPD, as well as to work in co-production with disabled people across Cheshire.
“We’re looking forward to working with the council to help them deliver these commitments and drive further improvements, particularly around reviewing social care charging; disability-related expenditure guidance; thinking local; supporting Cheshire-based DPOs; and providing simple and clear information and communications.”
Rick Burgess, outreach and development lead for GMDPP, who gave evidence to the commission, said the panel welcomed the report and its “emphasis on a rights-based, coproduced social care”.
He said: “We supported the Cheshire Disabled People’s Panel in taking the message to the commission that the [UNCRPD] and social model must be the frameworks within which local authorities design, deliver and review social care and support services – and indeed all services used by disabled residents.
“This report is a tangible demonstration of what disabled people’s organisations can achieve through skills and knowledge-sharing practice.
“We look forward to further strategic collaborations on UNCRPD and the social model in our regions.
“Watch this space!”
Picture: (From left to right) Cllr Val Armstrong, Rick Burgess and Lynne Turnbull
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