November 2011 Community Care & Public Sector Equality Duties
Two recent cases, both involving Birmingham City Council, highlight the need for authorities to consider their duties under the Single Equality Act 2010 when making decisions that affect access to social care and health services.
In the first case, claimants challenged the council’s decision to stop funding an advice service they used, on the basis that the council had not fulfilled its public sector equality duties in respect of race and disability. The council’s initial decision had been taken without considering an equality impact assessment that had been carried out. They convened another meeting which considered the assessment and reaffirmed the decision to terminate funding. The High Court quashed the decision because the authority had failed to adequately consider the disadvantages to service users, there had not been adequate consultation and the authority had failed to demonstrate that it had had due regard to the needs of the groups to whom the duties applied.
In the second case, four severely disabled service users challenged the council’s decision to restrict funding for community care services to those with ‘critical’ needs, on the grounds that the council had failed to have due regard to the disability equality duty.
The council had failed to focus on the questions that were required to be asked when considering ‘whether the impact on the disabled of the move to “critical only” was so serious that an alternative which was not so draconian should be identified and funded to the extent necessary by savings elsewhere’.
In both cases the court confirmed that authorities are required to consider the impact of a proposed decision and whether such an impact is consistent with the need to pay due regard to their equality duties. The implication of the second judgement (including arguably the move to critical only eligibility criteria for adult social care) may be incompatible with the equality duties.
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