A quarter of adults with disabilities in receipt of council funding are unable to safely move around their own homes because the social care they receive is insufficient, research by a charity network suggests.
The survey of almost 4,000 18-64-year-olds by the Care and Support Alliance (CSA) found that overall, 29% of respondents faced cuts to their care over the past year.
Many said this was in spite of there being no change to their needs, raising the possibility that their rights under the Care Act 2014 were being breached.
The local government and social care ombudsman recently ordered Waltham Forest council to double a man’s care package after the London borough was found to have failed to consider his needs on several counts.
Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society and co-chair of the CSA, said it was “scandalous that the rights of disabled people are being denied and that they are going without the care they need”.
Nearly half of the disabled adults (48%) to the CSA survey said that because of a lack of care they had experienced not being able to leave their home. Similar proportions said they had been unable to work (46%), or had seen their health deteriorate (49%).
“Evidence of the law being breached is widespread and compelling, and the cuts to council budgets since 2010 have been of such a scale that it would be little surprise if care is now being ‘rationed’,” added Lever. “The government must ensure that at least £2.5bn goes into the social care system in 2019/20 and announce this in [next week’s] budget.”
Legal ins and outs
Responding to the survey findings, Belinda Schwehr, chief executive of the CASCAIDr advice charity, said that it was important to recognise that not all cuts to care plans were illegal, even where there was no change in need.
“The cost to a council of meeting needs may well have gone down due to commissioning pressure from a council enjoying a dominant market position, unaccountable under competition law,” Schwehr said. “[Or] some other liable agency’s input or informal support may have become available; or there may be another way of meeting the same needs, defensibly appropriately, that costs the council less than the previous means.”
Schwehr added that a judicial review could be sought on any one or more of four grounds: illegality, irrationality, unfairness or breach of human rights. The latter, she said, would cover “an offer so mean as to leave someone with a quality of life objectively likely to be thought of as inhuman or degrading”.
Schwehr suggested that anyone concerned by a decision breaching legal principles or laws such as the Care Act should write to their local authority’s monitoring officer.
“If the referral is regarded by the monitoring officer, as a true picture and the relevant conduct or omission is thought to be unlawful, the monitoring officer has to alert elected members to it,” Schwehr said.
She added: “The monitoring officer needs to remind members that the council’s financial reserves are for managing legal risk, and that a statutory duty really is a duty, once triggered by the finding of eligible assessed unmet need.”
Sarah Lambert, head of policy and public affairs at the National Autistic Society and spokesperson for the CSA, agreed that while not all cuts were illegal, the survey results suggested “widespread breaches in the law”.
She pointed to research carried out by the CSA and Community Care in 2017, which highlighted social workers’ concerns that they were being expected to reduce help on offer to people, as backing this up.
Lambert said participants in the new CSA research had not been asked specifically about funds, but rather about whether the amount of social care support they receive had been reduced.
“Our argument is that given the large number of people we spoke to who have had their eligible needs assessed and met one year, if they are receiving a reduction in care the following year when their needs haven’t changed, this seems to us that there is a widespread breach of the law,” Lambert said.