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One year on budget cuts make Care Act “less effective”

01 April 2016

A year after it was introduced, Disability Rights UKs legal partners, Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, say that budget cuts and a lack of compliance from local authorities are making The Care Act less effective than hoped.

 When it was brought in last April, the Care Act 2014 was billed as the biggest change to adult social care for more than 20 years, which aimed to give disabled adults and their carers a greater understanding of their rights.

The new legislation consolidated all existing laws relating to adult social care and introduced new duties, aimed at providing better support for disabled adults and carers. The key changes included:

  • New rights for carers – for the first time, carers of disabled adults were given equal rights in law to those they care for.
  • The introduction of a wellbeing principle and other key duties – these duties underpin any decision made by a local authority and require councils to promote a person’s wellbeing in any decision being made about their care and support.
  • The introduction of the national eligibility criteria – this criteria replaced the previous eligibility system where eligibility could vary from council to council.

However, Irwin Mitchell say that it is still unclear whether the Care Act has succeeded in offering better support to the most vulnerable members of society and those looking after them.

Research carried out by the law firm six months after the Act passed found that out of those surveyed, 92% of people involved in social work said the Care Act was a good piece of legislation. However there was also an overwhelming number of people who cited a lack of funding as their single biggest concern about social care.

The survey also worryingly revealed that over half of social care workers surveyed (54%) admitted they were not aware of new rights brought in by the Care Act.

 Recent research by the Care and Support Alliance (CSA), which represents more than 75 charities including Disability Rights UK, warned cuts are reducing local authorities’ ability to meet their statutory duties.

Its analysis of savings plans from 15 councils revealed proposals to cut staff, freeze recruitment and reduce assessments in 2016/2017, leaving a potential for them to fall foul of the new Act’s requirements.

 Caroline Barrett from Irwin Mitchell’s Public Law team said:

“Massive budgetary cuts are possibly the biggest obstacle hampering the Act’s success. This year many local authorities have made cuts to the funding for adult social care so the question is, how can the Care Act duties be enforced when there may not be enough money in the system?

The duties of local authorities under the Care Act are not optional and they must comply with them but with cuts to the amount of provision on offer in many areas, councils could run the risk of being challenged in the courts.

 We are particularly concerned that despite the strong wording in the Act, insufficient focus is being placed upon the wellbeing of disabled adults and their carers.

 We are yet to see a case go through the courts which examines the extent of this duty, or how much reliance can be placed upon it in obtaining better and more person centred care, but such a case would help to clarify the law in this area.”

She added however that:

“The good news is that since the Care Act came into force a year ago, we have seen positive feedback from carers which indicates they are enjoying better access to more assessments and support. So while there is more work to be done to ensure the Act lives up to its full potential, it shows a step in the right direction.”

Further information on the Care Act 2014 and the type of help Irwin Mitchell can provide is available @ http://www.irwinmitchell.com/personal/protecting-your-rights/social-healthcare-law/the-care-act

We also have a dedicated Care Act 2014 resource Page @ http://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/how-we-can-help/independent-living/care-act-resource-page

Our series of factsheets on independent living is available @ http://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/how-we-can-help/benefits-information/factsheets/independent-living-factsheets