The government will take social care “back to year zero” if it removes duties on councils to support service users, it has been warned.
The Department of Communities and Local Government has said it is examining all social care duties of local authorities as part of a wide-ranging review.
It follows communities secretary Eric Pickles’ declaration of war on councils’ “barmy rules and regulations”.
The department said it was aiming to give local authorities “freedom to operate in a way that meets local needs and priorities”.
The public has been asked to judge which duties should be abolished and which should be kept.
Included in the list are duties to:
• Assess people for community care.
• Offer a carer’s assessment.
• Consider the needs of disabled people.
• Provide welfare services.
• Investigate suspicions that a child is being harmed.
• Keep a child in care when a care order has been made.
“If anyone thinks the government is not serious in its [right-wing] ideological position then they should check this list,” said Peter Beresford, chair of service user organisation Shaping Our Lives.
“It could take us back to year zero.”
Family court guardians and lawyers have hit out at the consultation, with one lawyer branding it “sneaky”, “insulting” and “deeply concerning”.
“It is hard to believe that the government could consult on changes to primary legislation in this way. It is so sneaky. And it is insulting to professionals and vulnerable groups that duties of care are even included on this list,” the senior family lawyer said.
Alison Paddle, a social worker and former chair of guardians body Nagalro, said: “I would be extremely worried about any measure that reduces the duty of care towards vulnerable children. If duties are removed, this surely would be a very short-term and ill advised way of cutting local authority responsibilities to fund services. It will be the most vulnerable in society who bear the brunt of the negative effects.”
Paddle is particularly concerned at the inclusion of section 47 of the Children Act 1989: local authorities’ duty to investigate when it is suspected that a child may be suffering harm and to decide whether to take safeguarding action.
“These statutory duties are how children can expect to be protected from harm. They are vital to stop children from actually suffering significant harm, The Children Act was a landmark piece of legislation and it is very worrying to think it might be being looked at in a piecemeal way and chopped up. That would damage the whole fabric of welfare services for children.”
“The review itself is not the issue it’s what comes out of it,” said Richard Humphries, senior fellow at the Kings Fund. He said he could not see the review generating any major changes in council duties on its own while the Law Commission was also reviewing adult social care law.
When asked why he thought these duties had been included in the department’s consultation he said: “They are probably obliged to do that they have got to have a list with everything in there somewhere.”
Andrew Cozens, social care lead at the Local Government Association (LGA), added: “I don’t think anything will come of this.” He said it was desirable to strip away red tape for councils but thought the consolidation of adult social care law likely to be proposed by the Law Commission would probably achieve much of this. The commission is due to report on its findings in May.
The plans support Pickles’s crusade against council red tape. He wrote in The Guardian last year: “It’s time to stop councils being smothered by central government and strangled with regional bureaucracy… I personally promise to get rid of all the barmy rules and regulations that take up all their time.”
The consultation will close on 25 April.
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