by Allan Norman
Barely had I finished writing my commentary on the Casewell case, when last week the courts were at it again, commenting on the interface between allowances for caring and benefits.The case in question, B v London Borough of Lewisham & Anor  EWHC 738 (Admin) (17 April 2008) was brought by a grandmother receiving special guardianship allowances from Lewisham London Borough Council – who hereby win a prize for being the first council whose unsuccessful cases feature twice in my blogs!
Guardianship and fostering
Special guardianship allowances had been pegged significantly lower than fostering allowances aligned instead to adoption allowances. Lewisham argued, correctly, that special guardianship is in reality aligned more closely to adoption than fostering.
The court said:
First, on a proper reading of the relevant guidance, which Lewisham should have followed, special guardianship allowance should be set having regard to fostering allowances.
Second, that having regard to fostering allowances meant more than a token nod in the direction of fostering allowances before pegging them to something completely different.
Third – in a most unexpected twist – that there was indeed an argument that special guardianship and adoption allowances should be aligned, but that argument was that both should be aligned to fostering allowances.
Fourth, that Lewisham’s special guardianship allowance scheme and adoption allowance scheme were therefore both unlawful, because set too low.
It is hard to conceive that this decision will not impact on other authorities across the country.
My blog on Casewell commented on the distinction between incentivising and remunerating care, and upon the poverty trap.
This case is not directly about the benefits system and the poverty trap, but it does offer the most damning indictment of the adequacy of benefit levels, since the judge also commented that even when allowances were pegged at the higher level of fostering allowances, payable on top of benefits, there was no element of remuneration, simply the actual cost of care.
How far short, then, are benefit levels themselves from actually covering the cost of care?
Allan Norman is Principal Social Worker & Solicitor at Celtic Knot, an independent law firm and social work practice.