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A local authority is facing a judicial review challenge over its plans for a £225,000 funding reduction to short break services. The legal action against West Berkshire Council is being brought by the families of two severely disabled children, a 14-year-old boy (B) and an 8-year-old girl (E) from Newbury.
West Berkshire’s budget for short breaks will reportedly be cut by 54% to £190,000 for 2016/17 following a decision made by the council at a meeting on 1 March.
The claimants argue that the funding reduction is unlawful, including breaching the Breaks For Carers of Disabled Children Regulations 2011. The regulations are designed to safeguard the needs of carers who would be better able to care for their disabled child more effectively if short breaks were provided.
The parents of B, who has autism and a rare neurodevelopmental disorder called William’s Syndrome, said the “life-saving” short breaks services enabled their son not only to have meaningful social experiences, but gave them a much needed break to spend quality time with his siblings and each other.
The parents of E, who is eight years old and has autism, ADHD, epilepsy and cortical dysplasia, said they relied on short breaks services to give E the opportunity to play with children her own age and so they can spend quality time with their 12-year-old son.
The claimants said the cuts meant B and E would no longer be able to access the same level of services as they did before.
Alice Cullingworth, a solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, said the council had been invited to reverse its decision and “think again” after having assessed the sufficiency of short breaks for families in West Berkshire. The authority has also been asked to apply some of its reserves to prevent cuts to short breaks.
She added: “There is no evidence West Berkshire properly analysed the level of demand for children’s short breaks services or what services will be available to meet this demand with a reduced budget of £190,000 for 2016/17.
“Nor is there proper and lawful consideration as to whether the council will be providing a sufficient range of day-time care, overnight care, educational or leisure activities, and services to assist carers in the evenings, weekends or school holidays as the law requires.”
Steve Broach of Monckton Chambers has been instructed by Irwin Mitchell as counsel for the claimants.
A spokesman for West Berkshire said: “We are aware that a judicial review application has been made by Irwin Mitchell. We do not believe it is well founded. We will not be in a position to comment further until the legal proceedings have concluded.”
The London Borough of Ealing is facing legal action over proposals to close a respite care facility for young people with complex disabilities.
The proceedings against the council are being brought by law firm Irwin Mitchell on behalf of the family of a 17-year-old, severely disabled boy (C) who has used Heller House in Southall for two nights per week since December 2010. C has also used the nine-bedroom children’s home for short breaks.
Ealing took the decision on 16 February to close the facility. The claimant argues, however, that no alternative respite care has been formalised and children who use Heller House could be forced to travel out of the borough.
Calling on the council to rescind its decision, Irwin Mitchell claimed that, because Ealing decided to close the facility without knowing whether there would be suitable alternative services available, the decision was in breach of the Equality Act 2010 as the council did not know whether and how disabled children would be detrimentally affected.
The law firm said C’s family relied on respite services to enable him to have meaningful social interactions with other youngsters in a safe and controlled environment as well as to give them a much needed break to spend time with their other children, including C’s 20-year-old brother who also has autism and complex needs and lives in a residential placement most of the time.
Alice Cullingworth, a solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, said: “We have spoken to a number of families who have told us that they would like to use the Heller House service if it were available, who either did not know about it or have not been able to access the service to date.
“It’s clear that by closing the only in-borough provider of overnight respite that there is a risk that if alternative providers lack capacity out of borough then children may not be able to access services to meet their assessed needs.”
She added: “We have spoken to a local councillor, Jon Ball, who confirmed that in his opinion it appears negotiations between Ealing Council and other local authorities are far from concrete, and that only very superficial conversations with other local authorities have been conducted to date.
“Councillor Ball confirmed to us that he believes there is no agreement presently with other local authorities, even in outline, which means a decision has been made to close this invaluable facility without a concrete alternative for the young people who so highly depend on it.”
Many councils such as Glasgow and Edinburgh have announced plans to cut their budgets in the coming financial year. Others such as North Ayrshire and Aberdeenshire are promising to increase the amount they take in Care Charges again!
But in Falkirk, campaigners have managed to get the council to think again about one particular cut. Falkirk Equal People , one of the members of LDAS, meets weekly in Grangemouth to encourage members to become more independent and act as advocates for social justice and equal opportunities.
The local council supports the group with a free let all year round, and 13 hours of support work. However, budget proposals suggested this help would end and the group might have to stop operating altogether.
A large public meeting was held in Grangemouth where it was said “this would be an example of an extremely short-sighted cut. If this group goes then you are going to see more people demanding support from health services and social services and this will end up costing a lot more money.”
Hundreds of signatures were collected on a petition. A demonstration was planned outside the Council’s budget meeting along with a deputation inside. However a few days before the council met, the group were told that plans for any cuts this year were being withdrawn.
While none of the members were resting as the cuts might re-emerge next year, this is a result the group can be proud of.
After years of campaigning the Kingspark families have won a commitment from the Scottish Government that the new guidance, 'Included, Engaged and Involved” will specifically refer to children and young people with complex additional support needs.
It will make clear that children and young people with disabilities have additional legal protection provided by equality legislation
There will be the inclusion of a section on the promotion of Positive Behaviour and the development of a whole school ethos. This would help in itself to minimise the use of restraint by helping to focus on the needs of each individual child.
The guidance might be also be renamed so that it did not primarily focus on exclusion but more on positive behaviour. This will help steer teaching and support staff in the right direction.
Beth Morrison, the lead signatory of petition said “It has been a long fight and I’m absolutely delighted the campaign has been successful. I’ve been told a draft of the guidelines will be drawn up next month and I’ll have the chance to have a look at it before things are made final.”
Earlier this year, Edinburgh Council announced they were going to cut £15 million from the social work budget including nearly £3 million for support packages for people with learning disabilities and other support needs. The Self Directed Support system which had been running for just over 12 months was to be overhauled, budgets were to be cut by 20% and a streamlined review process was to find ways to cut back support packages, one by one. New teams of social workers charged with leading the reviews were organised. It was to be a new approach. And unsurprisingly first reports were worrying with one of the new social workers putting it, “After all, do you know how much it costs to keep people with learning disabilities.”
Fortunately wiser heads have prevailed. Long standing members of the council have been able to step in and counsel for a more measured approach to reviews. People who know the individuals well are now leading the reviews. Many of the early reviews which proposed big cuts in services have not been progressed. The Finance and Resources Committee acknowledges that it is likely that the savings target will not be met. Many families and people with learning disabilities have breathed a big sigh of relief.
But its not over yet and the proposals to cut are likely to be revisited again. There are also a number of other efforts under way which will affect people with learning disabilities adversely.
A new assisted transport policy means that people with high rate DLA mobility are now expected to make their own way to support services (transport will not be supplied).
Day services will be reviewed throughout Edinburgh with the aim of closing a number of local authority run centres and the remainder now specialising in supporting those with complex needs.
A maximum budget of £26,070 is set for those with the most complex needs – a lot less for many others.
Changes in the assessment process will limit help to only those carers who provide “substantial support on a regular basis.”
It is hard to see how we will ever see a “Fairer Scotland” when this scale of local authority attacks on the vital social care that people with learning disabilities need is under way.