A local authority apparently told its social workers to “stop all their usual work” until the coronavirus crisis was over, even before emergency powers to reduce their duties under the Care Act became law.
The controversial Coronavirus Act, which became law last Wednesday (25 March), suspended key parts of the Care Act, with disabled people’s organisations and others warning that it would “run a coach and horses” through disabled people’s right to social care.
But measures in the act that allow councils to “ease” these duties under the Care Act only took legal effect on Tuesday this week (31 March).
Disability News Service (DNS) has seen evidence that suggests that one local authority, Tory-run Warwickshire County Council, told its social workers to halt all their usual work even before the act was passed last week.
Among the changes, the government confirmed this week in guidance, councils no longer have to carry out detailed assessments of disabled people’s care and support needs, and no longer have a legal duty to meet all eligible care and support needs.
But the government also confirmed this week in its guidance that councils should only use the new “easements” provided by the Coronavirus Act where it is “essential in order to maintain the highest possible level of services”.
It also says that councils “should comply with the pre-amendment Care Act provisions and related Care and Support Statutory Guidance for as long and as far as possible”.
But evidence seen by DNS suggests that Warwickshire County Council took the decision to halt all the “usual work” being carried out by its social workers before the act even became law.
An advocacy worker paid by the council revealed to a disabled service-user on the day the act received royal assent that she had been told by a social worker that a long-awaited assessment of his need for care and support would be put on hold.
She said this was because “social workers are being asked to stop all their usual work and are being moved to supporting NHS staff at the hospitals until this crisis is over”.
The service-user, a disabled campaigner, told DNS he was “really concerned” about the council’s actions and its decision to “jump the gun” in using the new act.
He fears it could now mean a delay of up to two years in being assessed, while he survives on his existing care and support plan, which he says is not sufficient to meet his needs.
Linda Burnip (pictured), co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, who lives in Warwickshire, said: “The whole issue is yet another complete shambles.
“Only today have the government published a response to the act from [ministers] Justin Tomlinson and Helen Whately saying that local authorities should do all in their power to meet people’s care needs*.
“Obviously this hasn’t been conveyed to Warwickshire County Council, whose behaviour can only be described as shocking.”
Cllr Les Caborn, the council’s portfolio holder for adult social care and health, told DNS that the council was “under pressure as all local authorities are, as are hospitals, so it makes sense to co-locate teams, doesn’t it?”
The council has refused to confirm what social care measures it has taken; what this will mean for service-users in the county; how the council justified taking these steps; whether it acted before it had the legal powers to do so under the Coronavirus Act; and if it was concerned about the impact of these measures on disabled and older people in the county.
But the council said in a statement: “Due to the current national and local challenges in relation to COVID-19 we are unable to go into the specifics of your query.
“However, we can assure people that Warwickshire County Council continues to work across the county to provide assistance to residents, including those who have care and support needs.
“We are doing this using the national guidance and supporting our partners, especially those in the NHS, to ensure those in most need receive appropriate and timely support.”
Svetlana Kotova, director of campaigns and justice for Inclusion London, said: “We understand these are unprecedented times and councils are under pressure, but this cannot be used as an excuse to deprive disabled people of the essential support they need.
“Let’s be clear, the support people get at the moment is already minimal and you already need to have been assessed as having substantial or critical need to get it.
“The COVID-19 crisis will mean many disabled people will need more support, not less.
“Rather than taking advantage of the new Coronavirus Act to withdraw support and the duties they have under the Care Act, local authorities should collectively, alongside disabled people, call for a massive injection of additional, ring-fenced social care funding from central government, like we have seen in other areas of the economy, that recognises social care as critical infrastructure.
“Locally, local authorities must do all they can to prioritise resources for social care and work with Deaf and disabled people’s organisations to find solutions that would sustain current support packages and ensure necessary additional support is provided for people now needing support as a result of COVID-19.”
Inclusion London has launched a survey to try to build a picture of how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting social care around England.
It plans to use the results to “present a case to ministers based on people’s day-to-day experiences of using social care”, and so influence government policy.
*They said in the document: “We know local authorities and providers will do everything they can to continue to meet all needs including those of disabled people in line with the Care Act.”
**Sources of information and support during the coronavirus pandemic include the following:
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