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A judge has ruled that cuts made to adult social care provision by Isle of Wight Council were unlawful and should be quashed.
The case was brought on behalf of two men with learning disabilities, known only as JM and NT, who require 24-hour care and therefore rely heavily on council services. As a result of the ruling, the Isle of Wight Council’s adult social care policy will be quashed because it was found to be unlawful and failed to promote disability equality, as it is obliged to do under the Disability Discrimination Act.
Judge Mrs Justice Lang said that the council failed even to comply with its own internal guidance on how to assess the impact of its new policy. Under the council’s plans, only vulnerable adults assessed as in critical need or at risk of developing critical need would qualify for social care services, which could have had a “devastating” effect on both men’s quality of life. Suffering from severe autism and brain damage, JM struggles to communicate with anyone but his parents. He needs support with all areas of his daily life and lives with his parents who are reported by the court to ‘devote their lives to his care’.
The second claimant, NT, has a-typical autism and a learning disability. He is described as ‘highly vulnerable and anxious and he has communication difficulties, and so needs to be supported by people who understand his way of communicating.’ It was thought that up to 2,000 people with disabilities on the Isle of Wight could have lost all or parts of their social care packages currently provided by the council, as a result of the proposed changes. The council had aimed to save about £1.6 million from its adult social care budget through the proposed cuts. Isle of Wight Council will be forced to put back in place the services that were cut under the new policy and to continue providing services for those with ‘critical’ and ‘substantial’ needs until such time as it decides to retake its decision.
Alex Rook from law firm Irwin Mitchell, which acted on behalf of JM and NT and their families, hailed the judgement as a “landmark” victory that sends out a clear message to all councils in England and Wales. “If a Council seeks to make cuts to its budget for adult social care, it cannot do so by only meeting certain needs designed to keep someone safe, but neglecting their overall quality of life,” he said. “The judgment also makes it very clear that if a thorough and full consultation process is not carried out when considering proposed cuts to services to disabled adults, the courts will quash the policy. “The Judge has ruled that the consultation the council undertook did not involve proper consideration of the practical detail of what the move to this new policy would entail even were it lawful, and the council had very little information about the impact that this would have on people’s lives before it took this decision. “The reality is that the council simply did not know what the effects would be – other than how much money would be saved – and so the Court has declared the council also to be in breach of its obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act. “This is a hugely important victory not just for the two individuals involved in this case, but also for the thousands of other people who may have been affected on the Isle of Wight and for families across the country wondering if their council was also going to cut services in the same way. “Our clients and their families rely heavily on this care and it would have represented a huge backward step if the care support was removed. It will also clarify the law for every authority through England and Wales if they consider taking similar steps as it is now clear that, with the exception of life-saving treatment, all needs that come within a council’s eligibility are of equal importance. This could be the prevention of abuse or neglect, support with personal care, access to education or work or support to maintain family and other relationships.”
Mark Milton, chief operating officer of the National Autistic Society (NAS), said: “The High Court ruling has prevented potentially devastating cuts from going ahead, which could have severely impaired the quality of life for many of the island’s most vulnerable people who desperately need support. “The NAS now calls on other local authorities to recognise the national implications of the ruling and ensure they are fulfilling their statutory obligations for adult social care. “Cutting vital services to satisfy budgetary targets is not a viable solution and can actually create greater financial pressures in the long run. Research by the National Audit Office in 2009 found that failing to invest in support for adults with autism is a false economy. Millions could be saved every year if adults with the condition are properly identified and supported.”