While awaiting the details of the court judgement, there was an important ruling yesterday that Birmingham Council’s attempt to limit eligibility to social care services to those who have ‘critical’ care needs is unlawful.
Drawing out some of the definitions to what this actually means and could mean requires a look at the details of those who brought the case to court.
There were four defendents which the BBC explains include
a 65-year-old woman with severe learning difficulties who receives 24-hour care in a home paid for by the council
25-year-old man with a rare genetic disorder and severe learning disabilities who receives overnight respite care, also funded by the council
30-year-old deaf, autistic man with severe learning disabilities who is prone to self-harm. His specialist day care would also have gone under the plans
a 36-year-old woman with severe learning difficulties whose day care centre will close and who is also set to lose respite care
It’s useful to go back to the definitions of what ‘critical’ and ‘substantial’ needs are to understand fully the implications of councils moving the eligibility criteria from one stage to the next.
Critical needs exist where –
• life is, or will be, threatened; and/or
• significant health problems have developed or will develop; and/or
• there is, or will be, little or no choice and control over vital aspects of the immediate environment; and/or
• serious abuse or neglect has occurred or will occur; and/or
• there is, or will be, an inability to carry out vital personal care or domestic routines; and/or
• vital involvement in work, education or learning cannot or will not be sustained; and/or
• vital social support systems and relationships cannot or will not be sustained; and/or
• vital family and other social roles and responsibilities cannot or will not be undertaken
Whereas Substantial needs (those that Birmingham are stating they are no longer able to meet) exist where –
• there is, or will be, only partial choice and control over the immediate environment; and/or
• abuse or neglect has occurred or will occur; and/or
• there is, or will be, an inability to carry out the majority of personal care or domestic routines;
• involvement in many aspects of work, education or learning cannot or will not be sustained;
• the majority of social support systems and relationships cannot or will not be sustained; and/or
• the majority of family and other social roles and responsibilities cannot or will not be undertaken
A couple of things to be noted here. A differentiation is made between ‘abuse’ and ‘serious abuse’ so that one will be covered and the other won’t. What kind of ‘legal’ test would there be to determine when abuse counts as ‘serious’ or not? Can we see children in similar cirumstances being subject to a differentiation of level of care available depending on whether abuse is ‘serious’ or ‘not serious’? And who is doing the judging? Well, I can answer that last question. It is the social worker involved as I am asked as a matter of course to ‘band’ people according to these criteria.
The obvious glaring point is the lack of thought of any kind of preventative work that sticking so closely to the criteria will create. Where is the hope of creating those very creative personal budgets when only the very bare minimum of essential needs are being met.
I can’t claim anything other than relief that Birmingham case was challenged in court. These criteria and these levels of need look at people as lists of what they cannot do. That goes against everything that we know and the ways in which we practice by looking at strengths and looking at people as individuals. However, the reason the criteria were brought in in the first place was to end some of the ‘postcode lottery’ of care provisions and to bring consistency to who was offered what nationally. Of course, the problem remained that interpretations of these criteria vary so the consistency which is objected by ticking boxes (the only way the officials seem to know to apply it) depends, as mentioned previously on the social worker who is doing the ‘judging’.
Back to this case though, it was brought under the Disability Discrimination Act and hopefully the judgement will be available soon. Hopefully too, local authorities around the country will be leafing through it and realising that the wholesale and slapdash cuts that they are imposing are not legal.
As for the government of millionaires, none of them will be reliant on social care support from the council. They can buy in any support that they might potentially need and cannot understand the distress of those who are totally reliant on the availability of services. They cannot understand the implication of their gung-ho ideological cuts and the thought of Cameron, Clegg and Osborne claiming ‘We’re all in this together’ sticks painfully in the throat.
Although I fully expect Birmingham to challenge this ruling, I hope that the case is held and that some of the trigger happy cutting is stopped and the very real effect of the cuts agenda is shouted out more loudly and more clearly – not just for those of us who are personally losing services but to raise our voices with those who cannot always shout so loudly.
That is what social justice is about and that is what social working is about.