State Of (Non) Independence
Yesterday, the judgment in Davey vs Oxfordshire CC was handed down. Lucy Series has written a superb but alarming analysis of the case: –
I can’t possibly improve on Lucy’s analysis but I wanted to look at what this judgment holds for the future of a disabled person’s independence. In this case, Mr Davey was receiving a personal budget of £1651. Following a reassessment of his needs, the council reduced the budget to £950. Mr Davey had employed the same support team for 18 years and was satisfied that this support enabled him to live an independent life. The judgment rested on Oxfordshire CC’s decision to reframe Mr Davey’s care plan as having “an eligible need to enhance his independence by spending more time alone”. The LA’s brazen argument that independence meant spending time without support. Judging by a reduction to the personal budget by £701, they clearly believe Mr Davey needs a huge amount of time alone if he is to meet their concept of independence.
As depressing as this latest judgment is, this isn’t new. Back in 2011, London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea removed Ms McDonald’s nighttime support on the basis that wearing incontinence pads instead would increase her independence. In my own area, the council’s independent living accommodation is structured so the residents are in their nightwear by 6pm and are shut in their flats until 7am the next morning. The residents’ personal budgets are pooled so that they can “independently” go window shopping in groups with fewer support staff.
The Davey judgment terrifies me as I speculate on what will happen if an assessor decides Steven has a similar eligible need. What would happen if he is left on his own in his flat for hours at a time? Steven wants, likes and flourishes from time spent on his own but either me or a support worker is in one of the other rooms for safety reasons. Our presence doesn’t compromise Steven’s independence. I fear what would happen if next door’s dog started barking for an hour, as she tends to do. A dog’s incessant barking causes a sensory overload for Steven and in his distress, he is likely to put himself at risk. After time alone, a support worker could return and find something fatal had happened. This is just one example of how Steven needs people around if he is to be truly independent.
The real problem is that like many other good ideas, the social care power players abuse those ideas. The word “independence” has become corrupted. Nobody reading the Davey judgment can be in any doubt that Oxfordshire couldn’t give a toss about Mr Davey’s independence. They have manipulated a man’s dreams and ambitions in a shameful cost cutting exercise.
We need a new word. Independence is dead. Would “autonomy” fit the bill? I’m not sure it does but it might work until such time when it becomes corrupted like all the words that came before it. A positive idea lasts only as long until the finance committee gets their hands on it.
Lucy sums up perfectly what the lasting message of this judgment might be. “Care here is not constructed as a relationship between individuals but a fungibleDavey commodity that can be replaced with no real impact on the service user”.
My guess is that Mr Davey will be impacted hugely by this decision.