Government dismisses disabled peer’s ILF appeal


newslatestThe government has dismissed calls by a disabled peer to set up a group of experts to monitor the impact of the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) on disabled people.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell received cross-party backing for her appeal, made during a House of Lords debate she secured on the fund’s closure.

She also called for the government to produce regulations and guidance to ensure that the principles and resources enjoyed by the fund continued after it was closed, another request rejected by the government’s work and pensions spokesman, the Conservative peer Lord Bates.

Without these two actions, she said, the government was “in jeopardy of undoing 30 years of independent living development, which has brought the most severely disabled people out from the shadows of dependency services”.

ILF is due to close in June 2015, with non-ring-fenced funding transferred instead to local authorities.

Baroness Campbell told fellow peers that many ILF-users had previously been “dependent on expensive residential care or traditional day services” and that “one of their biggest fears is of being forced to return to such provision when ILF funding ceases”.

She said that the responses to the government’s consultation on its decision to close the fund, and its own impact assessment, “make it quite clear that ILF users will face a reduction in funding”.

And she said there was “no guarantee” that the money being transferred to local authorities would actually be used to support those losing ILF funding.

She said: “I can see the temptation to plunder the fund now: for mending potholes, funding crisis care or simply balancing the books.”

Her fellow disabled crossbench peer Lord [Colin] Low said the government’s intention to set its new national minimum threshold for care eligibility at “substantial” meant that many of those ILF claimants from “group one” – who joined the fund before February 1993, when there was no requirement that a local authority should contribute to an ILF care package – would be likely to receive no support at all when ILF closes, as they have low or moderate needs.

According to the Audit Commission, he said, reductions in adult social care accounted for 14 per cent of council cuts between 2010-11 and 2011-12, but 52 per cent of cuts in 2013-14, while care thresholds had “risen dramatically”, with 97,000 fewer disabled people aged 18 to 64 receiving social care since 2008.

He said: “In these circumstances, the government’s assertion that the social care system will simply pick up where the ILF left off is unrealistic in the extreme.”

A third disabled crossbench peer, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, said the debate was taking place at a time when media coverage surrounding disabled people was “inherently negative”.

She said: “You only have to scan the coverage to see that they – or rather we – are being portrayed as scroungers and skivers who are a drain on society.”

She added: “My real worry is that it will become ‘too expensive’ for disabled people to live independent lives.

“If the funding is not ring-fenced, a disabled person’s independence is balanced against a contribution to, say, upgrading street lighting.

“There is a real danger that it becomes a decision about the benevolence that we choose to bestow on disabled people rather than something that should be clearly defined.”

The disabled Labour peer Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins said the government had been given the “clearest of warnings” that closing ILF “could relegate thousands of disabled people to residential care” or force them to live “such reduced lives that they would be deprived of their current ability to live independently, have a family life, be educated, be employed, do voluntary work and contribute to their communities”.

She added: “Far from abolishing the ILF, we need a system which builds on the way it has enabled thousands to live ordinary lives.

“We need a system based on universal principles, which funds the additional costs that disabled people have – of all ages and across the whole range of impairments and long-term health conditions.”

The Conservative peer Lord Cormack said: “I cannot understand the logic of winding up the fund. I find it difficult.”

He added: “It really would be appalling if in June 2015, when we are all celebrating the birth of the rule of law in the meadows of Runnymede in June 1215 [when Magna Carta was sealed], we foreclosed on some of those in our society whose need is particularly great.”

The crossbench peer and professor of psychiatry Baroness Hollins said that last week she had watched a play, Living Without Fear, performed by actors with learning difficulties.

She said: “The actors illustrated graphically the lives of people with inadequate support living at home, and the kind of disability hate crime and exploitation that some people with inadequate support will face.”

She added: “One worry I have is that the welcome move toward supported living for people with learning disabilities will be slowed down now with a retreat to a residential warehousing model of care, which we have been working so hard over the past 30 years to turn around.”

The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Kirkwood said the coalition was “doing the wrong thing” by closing ILF, and backed Baroness Campbell’s call for a reference group and new guidance.

But despite the widespread support for Baroness Campbell among fellow peers, Lord Bates dismissed her two-pronged plan.

He said there was already a code of practice in place between councils and ILF, which was “committed to working in partnership with local authorities to ensure a smooth transition for users”.

And he said there was no need for a reference group, because the government had already heard from ILF-users, other disabled people and relevant groups through the ILF consultation exercise.

He said the reason the government could now close ILF was that the quality of care provided by local authorities had “risen dramatically over the past 25 years, to a point where that can be now considered”.

But he admitted that some of the 2,800 ILF-users from group one “may well have needs that fall below the new minimum threshold and will not therefore qualify for local authority support”.

2 April 2014