Call for inquiry in wake of ILF appeal court win


newslatestOne of the five Independent Living Fund-users who defeated the government in the court of appeal last week has called for a face-to-face meeting with the new minister for disabled people.

Stuart Bracking said he wants Mike Penning to understand how important the Independent Living Fund (ILF) is to those disabled people who use it.

Three court of appeal judges announced last week that they were quashing the government’s decision to close the fund in 2015.

They ruled that Esther McVey, the former minister for disabled people, breached the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty, which required her to have “due regard” to the need to eliminate discrimination and advance equality of opportunity for disabled people.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) confirmed this week that it had accepted the court’s decision and would not seek leave to appeal.

This means that Penning will have to rethink McVey’s decision on the closure of ILF, this time paying “proper attention” to the government’s legal obligations.

DWP has also told ILF itself that all activity preparing for the transfer of its 18,000-plus users to sole local authority care in 2015 “must stop with immediate effect”.

A DWP spokesman said in a statement: “In light of the guidance provided by the court of appeal last week, ministers will be invited to make a new decision on the future of the Independent Living Fund based on further advice.”

He said DWP would be taking this advice from “all the suitable people and all the relevant people”, and would take “all the relevant legal advice” to “make sure the equality duty is adequately adhered to”.

He also said that DWP had not ruled out holding another public consultation.

Stuart Bracking, one of the five ILF-users who took the court case, said one possible action for the government – as well as saving the ILF and giving it a long-term future – would be to set-up an independent living taskforce or inquiry led by disabled people themselves.

He said this could examine the entire social care and health system’s approach to the needs of disabled people of all ages.

He said: “However we fund social care and independent living we still have the problem of this significant group of severely disabled people who throughout their lives will never be able to afford the level of assistance they need to stay safe, healthy and free of distress.

“As a society there are many outstanding issues we never seem to face up to. For example, 400,000 disabled people living in residential care and nursing homes who previously lived in the community. Or 200,000 young carers providing help and emotional support to a disabled parent, sibling or relative because of limited social services.

“An inquiry or taskforce would be an opportunity to address the many varied issues and problems that exist. ILF-users are uniquely suited to help with this.”

Bracking said that disabled activists must continue to lobby the government and campaign to keep ILF open, despite the court victory.

He and other ILF-users are writing to Penning to tell him how important the fund is to them.

But he said he believed a face-to-face meeting was vital: “One of the things Mike Penning can do is to understand this issue. The only way he can do that is by talking to people who are affected and give them a chance to explain the vital role the fund plays in their life.”

He said the government should speak to Anne Pridmore, another of the five and director of Being the Boss, a user-led organisation which supports disabled people who employ personal assistants.

Pridmore has campaigned for more than 20 years on independent living and personalisation and was a member of the ILF advisory group, until she resigned because she thought it was “ineffective”.

Pridmore said: “I feel quite optimistic. We have just got to keep it alight now, we can’t just sit back on our heels and say it is all over.

“We want to build on the victory and we need to try to get the local authorities on our side. They don’t know how much money they are going to get [from the government when ILF closes]and it cannot be ring-fenced.”

But she said it was not good enough to just try to keep ILF open. She believes its board should be run by ILF-users, and that they should push for the fund to be reopened for those disabled people who have been prevented from using it since 2010, when it was closed to new members.

Pridmore has also written to the new minister. “I included my CV for the last 20-odd years and I basically told him that if I had not had the ILF I would not have been able to do any of those things.”

Bracking, Pridmore and thousands of other ILF-users believe that closing the fund – a government-funded trust which helps more than 18,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently, by topping up their local authority-funded support – would “threaten their right to live with dignity” and could force them into residential care.

14 November 2013