Give Us A Break!
Short breaks are worth fighting for. Next round of cuts once again hit disabled people.
Local authorities across the country are consulting on the next round of public sector cuts. These cuts may directly affect you or a family member.
Manchester has to cut an additional £55 million in 2015-16 and a further £20 million the following year. A large chunk of this will come from the social care budget and will have a significant impact on disabled children and their families.
After a number of successive years of budget cuts, there are no easy cuts left to be made, the question of what to cut and what not to cut has been a key topic on the agenda for the last 3 months and has ignited passionate discussion.
"Reading through the list of proposed areas to be cut is gut-wrenching – through my work at Simpson Millar and within my local community I am acutely aware of the devastating impact these cuts are having on the lives of people across the country and it is those who are most in need of support and further opportunity who are the hardest hit."
Disabled people and their carers have already felt the cumulative impact of the cuts to services and budgets over the last few years. Research by the Centre for Welfare Reform demonstrates how the cuts have targeted disabled people. Carers’ rights all too often seem to be forgotten.
Cuts to Short Breaks
Many local authorities are proposing cuts to short break services. These cuts may directly affect you or a family member. A recent report by Every Disabled Child Matters campaign, ‘Right from the Start: what we want from the next Government’ highlights:
- 8 out of 10 family carers are at breaking point because of a lack of short breaks
- 9 out of 10 parent carers are concerned about cuts to local services that they or their families need
- Only 16% of mothers with disabled children work compared to 61% of all mothers – due to barriers to employment including lack of access to childcare for disabled children
Cuts to some services attract more publicity and support than others. Unfortunately cuts to services for disabled children and their families sometimes go unchallenged. This need not be the case. Hampshire’s Parent and Carer Network (HPCN) have showed this month that it is possible to successfully challenge proposed cuts to short breaks.
Do you know whether your council are proposing to cut short break services in your area? If so, is anyone challenging these cuts? What can you do to stand up for short breaks?
Stand Up For Short Breaks – Top Tips:
- Check what services your local council are proposing to cut - There is a good chance that short breaks are on the proposed list. Information about the proposed services to be cut in 2015/17 should be available via a quick search on your council’s website. If you want more detail you should be able to access all council scrutiny papers via the council’s website.
- Find out what discussion/activity has already taken place or is planned - Speak to local disability groups and councillors. Has there been any discussion about the importance of short breaks for families caring for people with disabilities? Have the scrutiny committees heard from individuals affected or their advocates? Scrutiny meetings are public meetings, you are welcome to go along and watch the debate. Most (if not all) scrutiny meetings are also now webcast so you can watch the debate from the comfort of your own home.
- Know your legal rights - Local authorities have a duty to provide short breaks for families caring for disabled children. The Every Disabled Child Matters (EDCM) campaign has produced an excellent resource sheet on the ‘short breaks duty’, including an explanation of the legal framework and opportunities to challenge. They have also provided some template letters that families and carers can use to question the proposed cuts in their area.
- Get organised – By taking organised action families and local groups are sometimes able to convince local authorities not to cut funding for short breaks and / or not to close or reduce access to specific services. The Youth and Play budget was protected in Manchester following a campaign by local groups and service users. The campaign led by Hampshire’s Parent and Carer Network persuaded Hampshire County Council to use some of their reserves to protect short breaks.
- If there hasn’t been any real debate on the issue, encourage local disability rights groups and other people within your community to speak up. Raise any questions and concerns with the local authority officers and councillors.
- If you represent a local interest you can seek permission (from the Chair in advance of a meeting) to present to the relevant Scrutiny Committee. You could help organise a group of people to attend the next scrutiny meeting to raise concerns.
- Respond to any relevant written consultations and encourage others to do the same. These can be accessed via your Council’s website. Many consultations are coming to an end so check out your council’s website now!
- Attend local meetings about the proposed cuts and encourage others to do the same. Details of any formal consultation groups meeting should be available via your Council.
- Consider whether there is a potential legal challenge – Do any of the following legal issues apply?
- Has your local authority carried out a fair consultation? They have a legal obligation to do so. This includes providing sufficient information about any proposals for local residents to make an informed and intelligent response. Was there information about alternative options, and the option to use ‘unallocated’ reserves or to raise Council Tax to avoid or reduce need to cut short breaks services? Anything else about the consultation that in your view made it unfair?
- Does your local authority understand the impact of the cuts on disabled people and children? Local authorities have a Public Sector Equality Duty (‘PSED’) and should have considered the particular needs set out in the PSED – e.g. the need to advance equality of opportunity for disabled people
- Can your local authority show that the level of short break services to be provided after the funding cut will be sufficient to meet the local need? Local authorities have ‘sufficiency duties’. To comply with these duties the local authority must know (1) how many disabled children there are in its area, (2) what the likely need for short break services will be for these children and their families and (3) whether there are sufficient services available to meet this need.
- If the funding is cut, will your local authority be able to provide short breaks to children for whom such a service is necessary to meet their needs? Local authorities have a specific duty to do so under section 2(1) Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 (CSDPA). Is every disabled child able to access a social work assessment? Are the eligibility criteria lawful? Is there a cap on the level of support a child who is assessed as eligible can receive?
- Will your local authority be able to demonstrate that the short breaks available will provide sufficient support to protect the private and family life rights of disabled children and their families? Local authorities have to comply with Human Rights Act.
- Take legal action - If you think any of the legal issues above apply then seek legal advice.
- Where a local authority has not fulfilled any of the legal duties set out in (a)-(e) above they can be challenged. We can help you to bring a challenge. Where there are a number of people who are likely to be affected we can advise you collectively on the best way to proceed with a legal challenge.
- If the local authority has not complied with the specific legal duties it owes to you, or someone you care for - for example to provide a social care assessment and/or support, to include short breaks - then we can help you bring an individual challenge in your own right, or as a ‘litigation friend’ on behalf of a child or someone who lacks capacity to bring their own legal action.
- Any challenge to decisions in relation to funding for short break services will be brought by way of an application for ‘judicial review’.
- Judicial review relies on ‘public law’ – the law that governs the conduct of public bodies. Public law is complicated and we therefore advise you to seek help from a specialist lawyer who has significant experience in this area.
- Judicial review challenges need to be brought promptly – and within three months of the date of the decision being challenged.
- Funding - legal aid remains available for judicial review cases. Only a small number of firms have a contract to carry out legal aid work in this field. Legal aid is means assessed but where a case is brought on behalf of a child, it will be the child’s means that are assessed not the parents/carers.
Every Disabled Child Matters (EDCM) - join the campaign.
All disabled children, young people and their families should be able to lead fulfilling lives and be part of their community. By joining this campaign you can help make sure the new Government considers the needs of disabled children, young people and their families’ right from the start.