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Self-advocacy campaigner takes organisation’s fight for survival to high court

Self-advocacy campaigner takes organisation’s fight for survival to high court
24th November 2011 developer

A disabled activist with one of the country’s leading self-advocacy organisations has spoken of her pride in taking her council to court over its decision to remove their funding.

Gina Barrett and colleagues from People First Lambeth (PFL) were in the high court this week for a judicial review of Lambeth council’s decision not to renew annual contracts with PFL worth £118,000.

The judge’s ruling is not expected until next month, but Barrett said she was “happy” that she had taken the council to court.

She said: “It was a good thing for me to do because not many people with learning difficulties go to court.

“It was good in a way that I did it for other people that have got learning difficulties. I felt good because it was a challenge for me to do it, but I found a good lawyer who was on my side.”

She said it was important to take a stand against the council because PFL was the only organisation run by people with learning difficulties in Lambeth.

Barrett said she had felt “upset and horrible” at the council’s “hurtful” decision to withdraw PFL’s funding and “pay someone else to do what we have done”, rather than paying people with learning difficulties to do the work themselves.

The council funding made up 94 per cent of PFL’s annual revenue, and Barrett and other people with learning difficulties from Lambeth are now fighting for the survival of their organisation, which was set up in 1985.

Louise Whitfield, a judicial review expert with Pierce Glynn solicitors, the firm representing Barrett, said: “It is important and significant for people with learning disabilities that the case was brought by a person with a learning disability.”

Barrett’s lawyers claim the council failed in its public sector equality duty – under the Disability Discrimination Act – to pay due regard to the impact of the cuts on disabled people and the need to promote disability equality, and to consult or engage with PFL members, before making the decision.

Whitfield said it was one of the first cases to look at these duties in respect of people with learning difficulties.

She said: “If you decide to consult, you have to do it fairly, and obviously if your consultees have particular needs you need to address those needs to make the consultation process fair and lawful, and part of our argument was that that had not been done.”

They also challenged the council’s continuing consultation efforts, using the new Equality Act to argue that removing PFL’s funding had made it impossible for members to secure the support they needed to take part in the process.

Although the council eventually responded to these later concerns by appointing a “user involvement worker”, this was only a part-time post and the person was not employed or managed by PFL.

The case is just the latest in a series of high-profile judicial reviews of decisions by public bodies to slash services and spending following huge cuts by the coalition government.

Lambeth council declined to comment.