I read with interest in the national press the legal ruling against Birmingham City Council which exposes the wretched human consequences of a council’s inept attempt to withdraw care from severely-disabled residents described by the judge as ‘potentially devastating’.
The court case may have turned on Birmingham’s clumsy trampling over equalities laws, as it had not complied with its Disability Equality Duty under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
However, this is what many such ‘frontloaded’ cuts actually look like – crude, rushed, ill-planned and lacking in detail.
The judge ruled Birmingham City Council had failed to consult properly about the changes, and neglected to take proper account of the duty to promote equality under laws on disability and discrimination.
Under the duty, councils must give due regard to eliminating discrimination, promoting equality of opportunity, eliminating harassment, treating disabled people more favourably if necessary, promoting positive attitudes on disability and encouraging participation of disabled people.
This ruling has a significant impact on other councils, a few of which are making similar changes to eligibility criteria for social care but also face legal challenges – including West Sussex County Council.
The court ruling revealed Birmingham’s clumsy trampling over equalities laws which will have significant bearing on WSCC’s decision to increase its social care eligibility criteria.
WSCC may still feel it has no other option but to press ahead with social care cuts, next time making sure it carries out its consultation properly.
But now the political and legal risks of doing so are as a result of this case, much stronger.
In cash-strapped times such as these, local authorities must do more to avoid the consequences of cuts immediately falling on those who are least able to bear them (so need to come up with a Plan B). What this significant ruling demonstrates is this may
be now not only a moral obligation but also a legal one.
I hope this ruling gives Barry Pickthall of West Sussex-based Don’t Cut Us Out campaign some much-needed momentum to proceed with the legal challenge against the council’s decision to raise its eligibility criteria.