Disabled campaigners have vowed to fight on despite losing a High Court challenge to a council’s plans to make sweeping cuts to adult social care and support.
A judge at the High Court in Manchester ruled that Lancashire County Council did not breach the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) by failing to pay “due regard” to the impact of the cuts on disabled people.
The case was taken by two disabled older women – JG and MB – but much of the evidence was compiled by a disabled people’s organisation, Disability Equality North West (DENW), which backed their legal action.
The two women argued that the council had decided to make the cuts before the necessary consultation process had even started, with the budget agreed on 17 February, despite the consultation not being due to finish until 11 days later.
But Mr Justice Kenneth Parker said in his ruling that he believed the council had just taken “a preliminary decision” on its budget, while being “fully aware” that the cuts would be likely to have an impact on disabled people, and that it had not committed itself to implementing the cuts until it carried out “a full and detailed assessment of the likely impact”.
He rejected the claim that the consultation had been just “a cosmetic exercise”, in which the council was “no more than going through the motions of setting out the consequences of a pre-determined course”.
Melanie Close, DENW’s chief executive, said she believed the two women would seek leave to appeal against the court’s decision.
She said DENW had been flooded with messages from its members thanking the organisation for taking on the case.
She said: “One of the positives is that the tide has now turned. Organisations and individuals now realise that actually as disabled people we do not always have to accept [these] decisions.”
The council – which has to make nearly £180 million in savings across all its spending over three years –wants to raise the eligibility threshold for support from “moderate” to “substantial”, saving £2.5 million a year for the next two years; cut spending on personal budgets and home care by £12 million over three years; and increase revenue from charging by more than £5.5 million over four years.
In the first four months of this year, said Close, DENW was hearing from disabled people whose support packages were being cut.
In the last three months, disabled people have started to contact DENW to report increased council charges of between £30 and £70 a week for their support.
Close warned that there would be further rises in charges next year. She said DENW would continue to gather information about the impact of the council’s policies, and would encourage disabled people to use the council’s complaints procedure.
DENW is organising an event on 23 September that will explain community care law and disabled people’s human rights, including their rights to challenge decisions made about their support, with 50 disabled people already signed up to attend.
At the event, DENW will hand out copies of a guide on rights, prepared with the help of disability organisations Disability LIB and DIAL UK, and copies of the council’s complaints procedure.
Close also intends to send a dossier of all the case studies compiled during preparation for the court case to the county council, in the hope that it will overturn individual decisions to cut support.
Lancashire county councillor Mike Calvert, cabinet member for adult and community services, welcomed the court judgement, which he said “supports our view that we have complied with disability discrimination legislation and that these decisions were entirely within the law”.
He said: “The changes we have made were very carefully thought through and will help to ensure that we can continue to protect our most vulnerable citizens.”
7 September 2011