Birmingham City Council is facing a second major legal challenge to its budget, this time by the relatives of a woman with learning disabilities who are challenging a decision to cut £53 million from adult social services.
Lawyers acting for the 65-year-old, who is currently in a care home, are seeking a judicial review in the High Court and will claim that a cuts programme was approved without properly consulting vulnerable people and their families who would be affected by the decision. The council is also accused of ignoring equalities legislation when withdrawing social services.
The case arises out of a move to save money by restricting council-funded care to the most severely disabled social services client whose needs are deemed to be critical.
More than 4,000 people who currently receive council care packages will have to rely on help from voluntary sector organisations instead – delivering almost half of a £118 million Adults and Communities cuts package by 2014.
The case has striking similarities to a judicial review last week, when a High Court judge found the council cabinet to have acted unlawfully when cutting grants to 13 voluntary organisations including the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Mr Justice Blake said the decision was “defective” because the council failed to draw up a plausible equalities impact assessment and councillors appeared to be unaware of their responsibilities under equalities legislation.
The latest case involves a woman, known as Mrs A, who receives 24-hour care at a specialist residential nursing home in Solihull, paid for by Birmingham City Council. Her family fears the cuts will mean she receives a poorer service in future and may have to be moved to another home.
Law firm Irwin Mitchell, representing the woman, attempted to secure an agreement from the council to postpone social services cuts until the judicial review has been heard, but the request was refused.
The judicial review is being sought on the grounds that the council failed to undertake a lawful consultation and have due regard to the need to promote equality under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
Lawyers will argue at a hearing that a consultation document failed to meet legal requirements in a number of areas – particularly its lack of clarity in relation to which groups will be affected and the options for those people who will have their care package removed.
The hearing will question whether the council considered alternatives such as raising council tax and whether it needs to make the cuts in the first place.
Irwin Mitchell solicitor Polly Sweeney said: “This is sadly one of a number of examples we are seeing at the moment where local councils under pressure to cut costs are riding roughshod over the needs and legal rights of some of society’s most vulnerable individuals.
“Birmingham City Council’s consultation process was poorly carried out and appears to be completely unfair on those people and families that are affected.
“Our evidence suggests that the council had a range of options available to it which could have avoided making the specific reductions in adult social care budgets. We are concerned that the council failed to properly consider alternative options for cutting social care, such as making savings in other budgets. Cutting care provision for the disabled and elderly has not been properly justified and the impact of the proposals has not been adequately assessed.”
The woman’s 57-year-old sister-in-law said: “I’m deeply concerned about what impact this will have and it’s important to take a stand here. My sister-in-law relies on the council’s support to assist her with daily living skills and promote her independence. The care is hugely beneficial and without it her quality of life would fall dramatically.”
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