19 May 2011
Birmingham City Council acted unlawfully over a decision to reduce its provision of care for disabled people, High Court judges have said.The judgement has implications for local authorities in England and Wales.Thursday's ruling said local councils must abide by existing disability laws to eliminate discrimination.It said councils must take account of people's disabilities, even where that involves treating disabled persons more favourably than others.'Climate of cuts'Across the UK there are 122 councils, as well as Birmingham, that currently only provide care to people with either substantial or critical care needs.The judges said all public bodies had a duty to follow the disability discrimination law, while acknowledging that placed "significant and onerous" obligations on local authorities.
Nick TriggleHealth correspondent, BBC News
The social care system is creaking at the seams. A combination of the ageing population and squeeze on spending means Birmingham is not alone in needing to make cuts.One of the easiest ways for councils to do this is to raise the eligibility threshold at which people are entitled to help. There are four levels of need - low, moderate, substantial and critical.Most councils are already at substantial - 116 out of 150 to be precise - leaving them with only one option - restricting support to only those with the severest need.This, of course, excludes many people who have for years been relying on social services and raises the question whether their rights have been infringed.Many believe this judgement tips the balance back towards the individual by suggesting that councils can no longer take it for granted that they can keep on cutting back on social care - a statutory service after all - just because money is tight.The families of four severely disabled people fought Birmingham council's spending cuts decision and took legal action against the authority.Solicitor Karen Ashton represented the families and welcomed the High Court ruling in London saying it gave disabled people a voice in law.
'No new money'
She said the council's proposed policy would have had "devastating" results."With consequences of this kind, then councils must look if savings can be made elsewhere," she added.Birmingham City Council said it welcomed the greater clarity of its duties with regard to theDisability Discrimination Act 2005.Peter Hay, the council's strategic director of adults and communities, said: "The original dilemma between reducing services in different areas remains."There is no new money as a result of the judgement and hard choices about meeting growing needs with fewer resources will have to be made by local authorities."The Conservative-Liberal Democrat run authority had proposed the cuts as part of a plan to save £212m.In April a court sitting in Birmingham made an interim judgement that the council had acted unlawfully and this latest ruling is the full finding.
In a statement Unison said: "The council should rightly be condemned for defending the indefensible. Thousands of vulnerable people in the city would have been put at risk if it were not for the intervention of the courts."Deafblind charity Sense said the ruling should be a warning to all authorities.Click to plaIts head of legal services Kari Gerstheimer said other councils in England and Wales may be considering making similar cuts to social care."We hope that this judgement sends a very strong message to those councils, that we are in a climate of cuts."But even in a climate of cuts there are choices to be made and a civilised society does not choose to cut services to people with the greatest need - that's disabled people."Previously the council said it had identified £118m worth of cuts by 2014-15 from its adult and communities directorate and needed to save £308m in total in the next four years due to the central government cuts outlined in the Spending Review.It said only people whose needs were judged to be "critical" would qualify for council-funded care. Following the Adult social care judicial reviewon Thursday, the council said it would revise its plans and re-run the public consultation.A council spokesman added: "It is important to point out that Mr Justice Walker has said that we were considerate and thoughtful of disabled people, in making our new offer, that our consultation was extensive but that it needed to be fully informed by impact assessment."