Abolition of social care duties ‘would be illegal’

Abolishing councils' legal duties to provide social care would breach human rights law, a lawyer has warned after communities secretary Eric Pickles floated the idea.

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Abolishing councils’ legal duties to provide social care would breach human rights law, a lawyer has warned after the government floated the idea.

The Department for Communities and Local Government is reviewing government duties placed on local authorities, including all those relating to adults and children’s social care.

However, Ed Mitchell, editor of Social Care Law Today and Community Care columnist, warned: “Unless the UK withdraws from the European Convention on Human Rights, the adult social care system cannot be turned into an entirely discretionary arrangement.”

“Court decisions have made it clear that under the European Convention on Human Rights certain people, particularly disabled individuals, have to be helped,” he said.

Mitchell said that if councils were left free to decide who was eligible for social care there was a real danger that those people whose rights to assistance were protected under the convention would not be identified.

Abolishing the duties could also breach the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said Stephen Broach, barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, which specialises in human rights.

The signatories to the convention, including the UK, agree to uphold disabled people’s rights to participate fully in society and to safeguard disabled people in situations of risk, among others. “There’s a requirement that the maximum available resources should be spent on guaranteeing those rights,” he said.

The proposals have met with condemnation from Labour MPs and the social care sector.

Emily Holzhausen, director of policy at Carers UK, said carers would be shocked the government was considering abolishing rights that they had fought for years to gain.

“I’m concerned because this is a very open consultation and people could comment on some duties that they are not so familiar with,” she said.

None of the adult social care duties included on the list could be removed without endangering the safety of service users, according to Stephen Lowe, policy adviser at Age UK. “It’s imperative there remains an individual entitlement to social care for many people; it’s the system of last resort,” he said.

Social worker and blogger Fighting Monsters said she gasped when she saw the extent of the list of duties under review. “I can see some of these being removed from local authorities so that private companies can step into the gap,” she said. “The government want to strip local authorities bare and have already taken many steps in that direction.”

“We need our voices to be heard in this consultation,” she added.

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