ACCESS Social Care, the United Kingdom’s first charity to provide legal support to the social care sector, has officially launched. The charity provides legal advice and support to individuals who need access to social care but cannot afford to pay for it themselves.
Access Social Care aims to ensure that everyone has access to legal aid and the justice that they deserve. Most of us will need social care at some point in our lives and yet 95% of councils have indicated that they are not confident that they can meet their legal duties to provide care in 2020 due to austerity measures. Furthermore, in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the Coronavirus Bill proposes to suspend the duties in the Care Act placing social care recipients in an extremely vulnerable position. Access Social Care charity will partner with leading law firms, including Field Fisher, Orrick, Baker Mackenzie, Slaughter and May, Orrick, Shearman and Sterling to improve access to early legal help, provide legal education, and gather data to evidence trends of unlawful behaviour to bring about systemic change.
Access Social Care stemmed two years ago from a project delivered by the Royal Mencap Society, the leading voice of learning disability. The project was led by Kari Gerstheimer and Jan Tregelles at Mencap. In 2020, Jan Tregelles, alongside Kari Gerstheimer, saw the opportunity to fill a much-needed gap in the legal aid market, as many people in need of legal advice fall between the gaps every year in the United Kingdom. Mencap are currently partners with Access Social Care.
Kari Gerstheimer, Chief Executive of Access Social Care said:
“Without access to justice, the right to social care might as well not exist. Access Social Care intends to change this by becoming a catalyst for the way the legal system and social care operates. We are grateful to our founders, Mencap and The Central England Law Centre for supporting us on our journey. We know that we can change people’s lives for the better by connecting our legal expertise with our member organisations and families when they need it most.”
Edel Harris, CEO of Mencap said:
“We are proud to partner with Kari and her team at Access Social Care. So many people with a learning disability in the United Kingdom desperately need this kind of support to access justice and get the care to which they have a right. We look forward to working alongside Access Social Care so that people with a learning disability in the UK can live the independent and fulfilling lives they deserve.”
Shireen Irani, Director of Corporate Responsibility at Fieldfisher said:
It’s a privilege to have joined Kari and her team at the start of their journey in 2017. Through our ‘Right to Care’ clinic, Fieldfisher lawyers from across our UK offices have been able to leverage their skills to represent people to secure their rights. Working with our clients, we’ve seen what legal help can do for people who are denied the social care they need to lead independent, fulfilling lives.
Victoria Butler-Cole QC of 39 Essex Chambers and member of our Barrister’s Panel said: “A huge range of problems can be encountered in social care – some of them have simple solutions if you know what the law says and what it requires of public authorities. The legal network marries up expertise in the law with people on the ground who are trying to achieve the best outcomes for the people they support.”
Jan Tregelles, Chairperson of Access Social Care said:
“When I first met Kari and we began to work together in 2016 during my time as CEO at Mencap, I knew that this was a much-needed gap in an otherwise shrinking and challenged care system. We knew from the number of calls that we received to the Mencap helpline just how lost and desperate individuals and their families were. Kari’s vision inspired me, and I knew that we needed to act fast and reach out to as many people as we possibly could.”
Access Social Care was incubated by Royal Mencap Society, the leading voice of learning disability and is now incubated by The Central England Law Centre who provide specialist legal advice to people across Central England.