2011 was the year in which the cuts to social care and related services really started to bite. But, equally, it was also the year in which campaigners of all hues – service users, trade unions, big national charities, lawyers and service providers – organised themselves to fight back.
In the majority of cases, the cuts, whether introduced by central government, local government or the NHS, have been imposed. But in a few cases, the campaigners have won the day. So here are our top five victories against the cuts in 2011:-
Government U-turn on mobility benefits for disabled
The proposal in October 2010 to end the payment of disability living allowance mobility benefits of up to £50 a week to disabled people funded by councils or the NHS in residential care united the disability movement and national charities, first in anger, and then in organisation. Just over 12 months later, the government ditched the plan.
Several factors came together to explain the campaign’s success.
The principle involved – the right of people in care homes to live independently – was unarguable with. The campaign was well organised and backed strongly by the big disability charities, as well as by grass-roots disability organisations. The impact of the big charities was most keenly felt through the Low Review, commissioned by Mencap and Leonard Cheshire Disability, whose critical report on the plan sounded its death knell.
The logic of the government’s argument – that council funding for care packages supported disabled people’s mobility needs, making the DLA payment unnecessary – fell apart under scrutiny. Councils may have been funding services such as transport to day centres, but they were not supporting individuals to get out and meet family and friends and engage with their communities – just what the DLA payment allowed.
The saving involved from the cut – £135m to £160m a year – was not large, while the victims of the cuts were not people who could be demonised by the popular press – no one has ever described a user of residential care as a scrounger.
Birmingham forced to scrap rise in eligibility thresholds for care
Birmingham Council became the focus for anger against adult social care cuts in December 2010 when it announced plans to set the country’s tightest criteria for care – at a ‘super-critical level’ above the critical band specified as the highest threshold in government guidance. Though it later softened its proposal to raising its threshold to critical, from substantial, the authority was taken to judicial review by four disabled residents, and in April, the residents won their case.
Mr Justice Walker ruled that the council had breached its Disability Discrimination Act 1995 duty to promote equality for disabled people in its decision-making because it had not adequately assessed the impact of the rise in thresholds on disabled people or analysed how this could be mitigated.
The ruling had significant repercussions. Birmingham decided to retain a substantial threshold for care, forcing it to look elsewhere for the savings earmarked. And, significantly, two disabled residents of the Isle of Wight won a similar case in November against that council’s decision to raise eligibility for care.
As council budgets tighten further in 2012, authorities considering raising thresholds will have to ensure that they take the lessons of these judgements fully on board before they do so.
Youth Justice Board saved from the chop
The Youth Justice Board’s abolition was announced in October 2010 as part of the so-called “bonfire of the quangos”. Its responsibilities were to be transferred to a specialist youth justice unit in the Ministry of Justice, headed by YJB chief executive John Drew.
However, in November this year, the government scrapped the idea and agreed to save the YJB, by removing its abolition from the Public Bodies Bill.
The U-turn followed a concerted campaign to save it within Parliament – led by former YJB chair Lord Warner – and outside, by the board itself and youth justice campaigners. All argued that a dedicated body was needed to ensure the specific needs of young people in the justice system were recognised.
Council forced to review freeze on provider fees
Back to adult social care and also to judicial reviews. Providers have long complained that fees paid to them by councils have not kept up with the rising costs of care. So there was jubilation in provider circles in November, when a judge ordered Sefton Council to review its decision to freeze fees for care homes.
Judge Raynor QC found that the council had failed to fulfil its duty to demonstrate that fees were sufficient to meet assessed care needs, and said that it had failed to carry out meaningful consultation with providers.
The judgement was reinforced within weeks when a second council, Leicestershire, was ordered to review its fees on similar grounds.
Climbdown on blanket 5% pay cut
Social care workers have had little luck in their fights this year against redundancy, pay cuts or freezes or reductions in their pensions, either at a national or a local level.
One of the central battlegrounds has been in Southampton, which announced cuts of 5% in pay packets for staff in December last year, alongside other reductions to sick pay and mileage.
While much of these cuts remain intact amid strike action by unions, staff claimed one victory after the council climbed down in January from imposing a 5% cut on all staff.
Instead, it opted for a sliding scale, which ensured that staff earning less than £17,500, including many social care workers, did not see their pay cut, though cuts of 4.5% were retained for staff earning £22,000 to £35,000, a group including many social workers.
The council subseqeuntly offered to increase the threshold at which it started cutting pay to £22,000, but this was rejected by unions.
More battles to come in 2012
The stage is set for more battles over cuts in 2012, at national and local level. Campaigners will be hoping that they claim many more scalps in the New Year.