The government has agreed to examine the “troubling” example of a Tory-run council that plans to undermine the rights of disabled people to live independently by forcing them into residential homes as a cost-cutting measure.
Barnet council’s policy was challenged in the House of Lords this week by the crossbench disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell.
She had asked what “crisis prevention measures” the government had put in place to “address the difficulties of those working-age disabled adults who have lost the support needed to live independently in the community”.
When the government whip Baroness Barran said that councils had a duty to “provide or arrange services, resources and facilities that maximise independence for those who have or are developing care needs”, Baroness Campbell (pictured) said research showed that her words “simply do not match the experience of disabled people on the ground”.
She pointed to Barnet council’s new policy, that it will “no longer prioritise offering community-based care and will instead adopt an assumption that disabled people are placed in cheaper accommodation settings”.
She questioned whether this breached the government’s Care Act.
Baroness Barran promised to take the “troubling example” of Barnet council to care minister Caroline Dinenage.
Barnet’s plans caused outrage among disabled people when they were revealed by Disability News Service earlier this year, and have been described by the disabled people’s organisation Inclusion Barnet as a “misconceived” policy that breaches the UN disability convention.
Earlier this month, disabled people and allies staged a protest at a Barnet council meeting at which the plans were being discussed by holding up signs saying: “Disabled People Have A #Right2LiveIndependently”.
Jenny Morris, a member of the Independent Living Strategy Group*, which Baroness Campbell chairs, said this week: “This is only one example of the ever widening gap between what the Care Act was intended to achieve and what disabled people are actually experiencing.”
The north London council wants to save more than £400,000 in 2019-20 by creating more “cost effective support plans”, such as using residential care rather than funding support packages that allow disabled people to live in the community.
It plans to consider “the full range of care options to meet eligible needs (eg residential care), rather than offering community-based placements (eg supported living) by default”, with a new “assumption” that “new clients are placed in cheaper accommodation settings where appropriate”.
The council’s own equality impact assessment of the new policy concluded that it was “possible that not having the option of a council-funded community placement will be seen as negative”, but it claimed that this negative impact on “some equality strands” would be “minimal”.
Paul Baldwin, chair of Inclusion Barnet, said yesterday (Wednesday): “We have been concerned about this policy since it was first proposed.
“We are not so far satisfied by the assurances provided by Barnet, as it is clear that financial considerations can still trump individual preferences.
“Therefore, Baroness Campbell’s intervention in the House of Lords this week was a vital challenge to a policy that means that disabled people’s right to live independently is being undermined.
“Inclusion Barnet will also continue to advocate for the council to change direction in our ongoing dialogue with the borough.”
Councillor Sachin Rajput, chair of the council’s adults and safeguarding committee, said: “We remain firmly committed to delivering high standards of care and support for those in need across Barnet, particularly our most vulnerable residents.
“We will carefully consider the range of accommodation options available to meet the particular needs of our residents, whilst also considering the limited resources that will be available to us as a council.
“Every person will be assessed individually, with their views and the impact on their wellbeing carefully considered.
“For the small number of people that will be offered a residential care placement, satisfaction levels and outcomes will be carefully monitored.
“Barnet Council will continue to comply with all of its duties under the Care Act (2014).”
Meanwhile, the annual budget survey by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) has found that only one third (35 per cent) of directors are “fully confident” that their budgets will be enough to meet all their statutory duties in 2019-20.
Since 2010, councils across England have had to make a “staggering” £7 billion in savings, and now need to find another £700 million in 2019-20, “just as demand and needs are rising”, said ADASS.
The Care Quality Commission said the survey “once again highlights the mounting pressure on adult social care budgets and provides a stark reminder of the fragility of our social care services”.
And it said the ADASS report “helps to show the human consequences of such under-resourcing and highlights the urgent need for a long term sustainable funding solution for adult social care”.
Nick Ville, director of membership and policy at the NHS Confederation, said the report showed that “while the government fails to act, the problems facing councils have got worse and the crisis for people needing care is escalating”.
*The Independent Living Strategy Group works to protect and promote disabled people’s rights to independent living in England. Its members include disabled people who were part of the independent living movement during the 1970s and in later years, as well as younger activists, other individuals and organisations concerned with independent living.
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