Campaigners launch new legal bid to halt Independent Living Fund closure


newslatestUsers of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) have launched a fresh legal bid to halt its closure, Disability News Service can reveal.

Three ILF-users are threatening a second judicial review of the coalition’s decision to close the fund, a government-funded trust which helps about 18,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently.

Many campaigners believed the battle had been won when five ILF-users secured a high-profile court of appeal victory last November over the closure decision.

But despite the court ruling that Esther McVey – at the time the minister for disabled people – had breached the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty, the judgment meant only that the government had to reconsider its decision, this time paying “proper attention” to its legal obligations.

Mike Penning, the new minister, told MPs on 6 March that he had done just that and had decided to go ahead with the original decision to close ILF and transfer non-ring-fenced funding to local authorities, although he delayed the closure date by three months until 30 June 2015.

Now three of the disabled campaigners who took the original court action – Stuart Bracking, Gabriel Pepper and Paris L’Amour – are renewing their legal battle, and other ILF-users have expressed interest in joining them.

They say that Penning has breached the public sector equality duty in a similar way to McVey.

They claim that his department’s latest equality analysis fails to reflect what the court of appeal described as “the inevitable and considerable adverse impact which the closure of the fund will have”.

They have written a “letter before claim” to the Department for Work and Pensions, calling on it to withdraw its closure decision, which they say is unlawful.

If Penning fails to act, they could seek a fresh judicial review in the high court.

Louise Whitfield, of solicitors Deighton Pierce Glynn, who represents the three ILF-users, said today (11 April): “I think there is a realistic hope that this will halt the closure.

“My clients’ concerns are so grave about the implications of closing the fund that they still feel it is essential that the government have a real hard look at what the impact would be on severely disabled people, and that just hasn’t happened.

“There is no real recognition that this is going to be devastating for large numbers of severely disabled people.”

News of the latest court action came as ILF-users called on the disability movement to show its support for their fight against closure on a European day of action.

They want fellow ILF-users and their families, disability organisations and disabled activists in the UK to join organisations across Europe that will be highlighting the impact of austerity cuts on the lives of disabled people.

The European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) is organising the first European Independent Living Day on 5 May, the culmination of its Stop Disability Cuts campaign.

It wants disabled people and their organisations to hold meetings, protests, marches or even flash mobs simultaneously in cities throughout Europe, while ENIL will organise a press conference in Brussels on the same day.

Three of the five ILF-users who beat the government in court – Bracking, Pepper and Anne Pridmore – have published a statement calling on the movement to support European Independent Living Day as part of the campaign to save ILF.

That call has been backed by more than 100 ILF-users, relatives, disabled people’s organisations and activists.

Bracking said that people were “terrified” about the impact of the closure on their lives, and added: “I think that is part of the tactics of the Department for Work and Pensions because fear paralyses people and stops them responding and fighting back.”

But he said that saving ILF could be a historic achievement, so members of the disability movement need to “fight as hard as we can”.

He said: “It is important to try to encourage formation of campaign groups, however limited, across the country.

“We can turn this around. The effects are so dreadful on disabled people’s lives, and the closure date is still 15 months away.

“The issue for politicians will be whether they can hold their nerve. As it gets closer, more and more people will wake up to what it is going to mean for them.”

Even small public events on 5 May will raise awareness of the need to oppose the closure, and other cuts to services and benefits, he said.

In a statement accompanying the call to action on 5 May, Bracking, Pepper and Pridmore warn: “The disabled people’s movement across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has a proud history of campaigning for independent living rights, but the gains of a generation ago for disabled people of working age are now under threat, as are the social opportunities pursued by many disabled people with complex conditions.”

They say the innovations of the independent living movement have been marginalised, while its organisations and projects have been starved of funding.

“But what is perhaps worst of all is many of those severely disabled people who have assumed the demanding responsibility of organising and managing their own complex personal assistance support, and do so 52 weeks a year without any financial rewards, are defined as being ‘economically inactive’.”

They add: “Our movement has a collective responsibility to defend the gains we have made, and renew its commitment to campaign for full civil and human rights for all disabled people and their families.

“The European Independent Living Day is an opportunity we should not waste.”

The statement has been signed by leading disabled activists such as Anne Rae, chair of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People; Debbie Jolly, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts and an ENIL board member; Kevin Caulfield, an ILF-user and chair of Hammersmith and Fulham Coalition Against Community Care Cuts; actor, performer and activist Liz Carr, another ILF-user; and Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London.

ENIL’s Stop Disability Cuts campaign has been running in the lead-up to May’s elections to the European parliament, and highlights the disproportionate effects of the austerity measures which have taken place at EU and national level on the lives of disabled people across Europe.

It says that these breach the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has been ratified by the European Union and 25 of its member states.

11 April 2014