Scaling up the legal challenge to social care cuts (1)
As I move towards the end of my period in elected local government, one of the things I’m starting to focus my energies on is the development of what I hope will come to be an effective and widespread movement of legal challenge to cuts by local authorities to social and care services for people who need them most.
In Lancashire, Disability Equality North West has taken the lead through the issuance of initial ‘letter before action’ and now cases have been lodged with the courts as application for full judicial review. There are other similar cases in the pipeline being examined by solicitors at the moment. All cases are going forward in individuals’ or families’ own names as this allows for legal aid to be secured.
If the cases proceed to full judicial review and are then successful, the Council will be required by law to reconsider its plans, though they may in the end make the same decision. In the meantime, the courts have agreed (apparently uncontested by the Council) that the cases already ‘in play’ will not suffer cuts while decisions over judicial review are pending.
These developments follow an early judicial review successfully brought in Birmingham.
While news and/or progress is patchy, it also looks like similar developments are taking place in other parts of the country, and there is the beginnings of a network of organisations/groups looking to increase the scale and effectiveness of the legal challenges.
The challenge now is to ensure that the message gets out there, to people in vulnerable positions who would never otherwise consider recourse to the law, but who might benefit from it if appropriate support is given. This isn’t just around the first round of cuts by councils’, but also about the coming changes to DLA and perhaps also to decisions made in the aggressive ‘fitness for work’ interviews.
In addition, we will need to home in on what the PCTs are up to with the cutting of grants/contracts to voluntary organisations meeting the needs of the disabled and vulnerable. The focus has been so much on councils’ decisions that there has been a tendency to overlook the dodgy decision-making by PCTs with little or no understanding of what is required of them under law.
However, in some cases time will be against us. Judicial Review needs to be set in train, except in exceptional circumstances, within three months of the decision point, and with many Councils having taken their decisions in March the clock is now ticking.
From my own side, I’ll be doing what I can to develop awareness in my own area of possible recourse to the law for individuals, as well as doing what I can to support the development (through my funding know-how) of a campaign/case management infrastructure, which both maximises the number of cases going through the courts and seeks to use court actions as an impetus for wider ‘resistance’ activity. While the judicial review cases may only generally delay decisions made by public bodies, pending ‘proper’ consultation, the objective has to remain the full overturning of these decisions, and the proper funding of social care in line with need.
As I noted many months ago, before much of the Left had woken up to the cuts were really going to happen, legal challenge may not be very glamorous if you’re a revolutionary, but it is likely to be an essential part of the armoury of resistance if you’re interested in engaging with people that the cuts are really hurting most.
My intention is that regular updates will follow this broad introductory post.