The government's decision to scrap a scheme designed to help disabled people to live independently did not properly consider the "potentially very grave impact" on the lives of vulnerable people, the Court of Appeal has ruled.
The fight against the abolition of the Independent Living Fund was taken to the courts by five disabled people, arguing that that 20,000 severely disabled people who have their lives shattered by the removal of the fund, and that their views had not been fully taken into account.
Gabriel Pepper, from Walthamstow, east London was one of them. He accused the Government of imposing "appalling cuts" which were "a vicious attack on the disabled". The other applicants are Stuart Bracking, Paris L'amour, Anne Pridmore and John Aspinall, who brought his case with his mother, Evonne Taylforth, acting as his litigation friend.
But the impact of the ruling goes beyond the five. Waiting outside the Royal Courts of Justice in the rain, sat in her wheelchair, supporter Jenny Hurst said she had been "sick with worry" but she was delighted.
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"It is a huge relief to have got over this first hurdle. There is more to go but we have got over this first hurdle, which is fantastic," she said.
Two of the organisations who supported the court action tweeted their delight at the news:
Great news re Independent Living Fund court decision! Well done to all involved.— Inclusion London (@InclusionLondon) November 6, 2013
Well done to all involved in #ILF case victory- will those DPOs that have been silent on disbled peoples' rights now join us in this fight?— DPAC (@Dis_PPL_Protest) November 6, 2013
Welcoming the "powerful" ruling, law firms Deighton Pierce-Glynn and Scott-Moncrieff & Associates, which represented the claimants, said their clients had "feared that the loss of their ILF support would threaten their right to live with dignity, and that they could be forced into residential care or lose their ability to work and participate in everyday activities on an equal footing with other people".
"It remains to be seen whether the Government will seek to revisit the idea of closing the fund. However, it confirmed in the course of the proceedings that any preparatory steps were at an early stage and could be reversed if necessary.
"Any fresh decision would require the Government to go back to the drawing board and to take into account the wealth of concerns raised by disabled people and by local authorities about the proposal to close the fund.
"Any new decision must be taken with proper attention to the Government's legal obligations to take account of the impact on disabled people and to consider alternatives that would avoid that impact."
The appeal by the five was against a High Court ruling by Mr Justice Blake in April that the closure decision was lawful.
The five argued that the High Court had gone wrong in law and there was a lack of proper consultation before the closure decision was taken on December 18 2012.
Appeal judges Lord Justice Elias, Lord Justice Kitchin and Lord Justice McCombe allowed the challenge and quashed the December 18 decision.
In the case of the five there was "simply not the evidence" to demonstrate to the court "that a focused regard was had to the potentially very grave impact upon individuals in this group of disabled persons, within the context of a consideration of the statutory requirements for disabled people as a whole", said Lord Justice McCombe.
He continued: "It seems to me that what was put before the minister did not give to her an adequate flavour of the responses received indicating that independent living might well be put seriously in peril for a large number of people."
Lord Justice Elias agreed, saying: "Any government, particularly in a time of austerity, is obliged to take invidious decisions which may exceptionally bear harshly on some of the most disadvantaged in society."
The court did not seek to "curb government's powers to take such decisions, but it does require government to confront the anticipated consequences in a conscientious and deliberate way insofar as they impact upon the equality objectives."