Storm of protest greets Birmingham’s super-critical threshold

Birmingham Council’s proposals to move to a “super-critical” eligibility threshold has been slammed as cruel, possibly illegal and an attack on the poor and vulnerable.

Its plan to only directly fund users’ critical personal care needs, designed to save £69m over the next four years, has come under fire from local union leaders, charities and legal experts.

It would be the first council to do so, establishing a care threshold that is higher than the four bands set out in the government’s Fair Access to Care Services (FACS) guidance: critical, substantial, moderate and low.

The council has said that people with substantial needs and critical needs that do not involve personal care will be supported outside the formal care system by external agencies, assisted by some funding from the authority.

However, Tony Rabaiotti, Unison’s head of local government for the West Midlands and an ex-social worker, said: “That’s a smokescreen for saying people who are in need now will not get a service until they are really desperate.”

Sue Brown, head of public policy at Sense, the national deafblind charity, said: “This flies in the face of the government’s eligibility framework and callously discriminates against people whose critical needs are not personal care, including deafblind people. This cruel decision will cut them off from their immediate family and shut them out of society.”

Linda Burnip, co-founder of the protest organisation Disabled People’s Against Cuts, pointed out that the government had said there was no need to cut eligibility with the resources it had put in.

She said: “On the one hand you’ve got government saying care funding should be protected and they’ve put in more and you’ve got councils who are cutting. I think councils could do more to protect care funding if they wanted to but I don’t think the government has put in enough.”

Rabaiotti said that funding external partners in this way meant the council would surrender the ability to plan its care provision and a postcode lottery would result within the city. He stated it was likely that more affluent areas would end up with better services while the poorest, which aren’t able to contribute towards the cost of their care, would miss out.

Burnip agreed, saying she feared there would be less choice for service users.

The legality of the changes are also in question. Ed Mitchell, social care lawyer and editor of Social Care Law Today, said it was possible for the proposals may breach the Human Rights Act 1998.

“It has been held that to fail to provide community care services to those who need them to enjoy a basic quality of life breaches Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, [which covers everyone’s right to respect for their private life],” he said.

The Human Rights Act incorporates the European Convention into UK law. A case in 2002 found that Enfield Council’s failure to provide services to a disabled woman left her isolated and unable to enjoy normal human contact and breached Article 8 of the convention.

He added: “The Fair Access to Care Services guidance, simply by setting up a hierarchy of needs, implies that it is not open to a council to refuse to fund those with the most compelling or critical needs.”

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