Care cuts row deepens as cases head for court

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Families of disabled children facing cuts to respite care are launching a High Court challenge against Lancashire County Council’s budget-slashing plans.

Parents of several children likely to be affected by LCC’s social care spending cuts are claiming the moves breach the Disability Discrimination Act.

At least one of eight respite centres in the county looks set to be closed within a year as part of County Hall’s plans to save £179m over the next three years.

One of the families behind the legal challenge has a 10-year-old boy who has autism and cerebral palsy.

The youngster, who cannot be named for legal reasons, needs one-to-one care round the clock from his parents, older sister and grandmother.

The family currently receive up to 96 nights of respite help a year.

Another family has an 11-year-old autistic son who needs constant looking after because he has no sense of danger and difficulties in communicating.

Social services provide one night of respite care a week for him.

Both families have appointed law firm Irwin Mitchell to fight their case at the High Court in London, claiming the council’s decision-making process was unlawful.

Solicitor Mathieu Culverhouse said: “These two families, along with hundreds of others across the region, rely heavily on this respite care.

“Although it is accepted that councils are required to make significant cost savings, they should not be doing it in a way which ignores the legal rights of some of society’s most vulnerable individuals.

“Ordinarily, councils and other public bodies ensure they have complied with the Disability Discrimination Act by carrying out an Equality Impact Needs Assessment (EINA).

“There was no EINA in this case – in fact, no discernable evidence that the council were aware of their duties under the Act.

“We want to force it back to the drawing board and ensure it looks at alternatives which do not impact so heavily on vulnerable groups.”

Faith Mann, Lancashire County Council’s director for targeted and early intervention services, said she could not comment on individual cases. She added: “The council does not accept the criticism that has been made in respect of its budget decisions.

“We are not removing overnight breaks, but are reshaping the service to provide support for families in response to changing needs and wishes.

“We are involving parents and carers before we reach the stage of formal consultation on any proposals and will also be working closely with social workers and our own care staff, who know the families very well.”

Respite campaigners took their battle to Downing Street last month when they presented Prime Minister David Cameron with a letter, begging him to rethink government grant reductions for council services.

Melanie Close, chief executive of Preston-based organisation Disability Equality (NW) said: “We understand the council needs to save money but these are worrying times for disabled people, parents and carers.

“Decisions that affect people’s quality of life can not and should not be taken lightly - that’s why we have legislation to protect disabled children and adults. We hope the council will look again at the decisions made and how they made them.”