The government has confirmed it is to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in April 2015, and has admitted the decision will have a “potential negative impact” on disabled people supported by the fund.
Outraged campaigners say the move comes despite “overwhelming opposition” from disabled people and their families.
The closure of ILF will see funding passed to local authorities and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but that money will not be ring-fenced.
Local authorities will then have “sole responsibility for meeting the eligible care and support needs of current ILF users” in England, while the devolved administrations will decide how to support those within their own care and support systems.
But the government has admitted – in its response to a consultation on the plans – that ILF users “may face reductions or alterations in their care package due to the reform”.
Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, said the government believed that “the needs of current users could be met in a more consistent and effective way within a single cohesive system”.
Local authorities have already stated that when ILF-users transfer into the local authority system in 2015, the pot of money they are awarded by their council to meet their support costs will probably be lower than they currently receive, with some forced to rely on relatives or charities.
The Department for Work and Pensions admitted that a “significant majority” of individuals who responded to the consultation were opposed to closure, although “a significant minority said they would be happy with local authorities taking control of the funding if it could be guaranteed that their care packages would remain the same”.
Most local authorities “expressed strong support” for the closure, according to the government.
But many activists believe the plans to close ILF – a government-funded trust which helps about 19,100 disabled people with the highest support needs – threaten disabled people’s right to independent living.
They say the government has offered no details on how councils would be able to meet the extra costs of people with high support needs who previously received ILF money, most of whom also receive both ILF and council funding.
Anne Pridmore, a leading disabled activist and one of the ILF-users taking legal action over the way the government consulted on scrapping the fund, said the government’s decision was “no great surprise”.
But she said the move would be “devastating” to her and others, and she pointed out that if it were implemented she would be unable to continue to take part in the many government consultation events she attends.
She said: “I will be able to do none of that in the future if I am relegated to an old people’s home, which seems to be the case.”
In a joint statement, Inclusion London and Disabled People Against Cuts said the confirmation of the closure had left disabled people with the highest support needs “in fear and distress”.
One ILF-user, Jenny Hurst, said she received a package of just four hours support a day before she was referred to the fund, “one hour for getting me up/showered and breakfasted, one hour for housework and lunch, one hour for supper and an hour to do the ‘put to bed’.
“In between times I couldn’t get a drink or use the toilet – let alone do anything meaningful with my life.”
With ILF support she has been able to go to university, secure a full-time job and become a charity trustee.
Kevin Caulfield, chair of Hammersmith and Fulham Coalition against Community Care Cuts, another ILF-user, said: “The announcement of the closure of the ILF is yet another nail in the coffin of the increasing numbers of disabled people being discarded into isolation, social exclusion, deteriorating health and premature death.
“This is more evidence that we are so far from being all in this together.”
Disability Rights UK said the decision to close ILF risked a return to “obligatory residential care home placements”.
Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “We are extremely concerned that the government is now adding to the enormous pressure on local authorities, disabled people and carers without taking steps to resolve the funding crisis.”
But one leading disabled activist – and ILF-user – has backed the decision to close ILF.
Simon Stevens, a disability consultant and trainer, said: “On paper it is the right move as it removes repetition, but the challenge is building a framework in the new arrangements that will stand the test of time.
“It’s what happens in 2018 and beyond we need to worry about when councils have full control.”
ILF will publish a “transition plan” early in 2013 describing “how users will be supported over the next two years in preparation for the transfer”.
20 December 2012