A crowd of activists gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London this week to support five disabled people as they asked the high court to overturn government plans to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF).
The five ILF-users fear that without the fund’s continuing financial support they will be forced into residential care or left unable to leave their own homes.
Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, confirmed in December that ILF would close in April 2015, with non-ring-fenced funding to be passed to local authorities and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
But the five claimants – Stuart Bracking, Paris L’amour, Gabriel Pepper, Anne Pridmore and John Aspinall – say that a government consultation on the closure plans that was carried out last year was unlawful, and breached the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty.
They also argue that the government failed to consider options other than closing ILF, and that the consultation exercise did not provide enough information about the difference between the basic support offered by local authorities and ILF’s focus on enabling people to be independent, to work and to be full citizens.
Pridmore, a former chair of the British Council of Disabled People, said: “People are very frightened about the future.
“I don’t think we should have to go through a court procedure to defend something that is written in the UN Convention [on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities], the right to independent living.
“What does it say about a country that doesn’t protect the most vulnerable members of society?”
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, told campaigners outside the court: “No ILF means no life. That’s the truth.”
She said the fund had “transformed the lives of a generation of disabled people” with the highest support needs.
“Make no mistake, the end of the ILF will have a devastating impact. It will condemn disabled people to a life shut away from society, to a life of isolation and survival in their homes or forced incarceration in residential care.”
She said most local authorities had told the government in its consultation on the closure that they could not guarantee that ILF-users would be able to maintain their current care packages, with some warning that many disabled people would end up in residential care. But she said the government had refused to listen.
The disabled actor, comedian and activist Liz Carr, an ILF-user, warned that the protest was “just the beginning”.
She told Disability News Service: “Many of us who have so far benefited from that fund are terrified of the prospect of what is going to happen to us.
“I believe that in the next two years we have to do as much as we can to make sure this issue doesn’t go away.”
Carr said ILF funding ensured disabled people have “the same kind of lives that everybody else takes for granted”, which was “not a privilege or a luxury, just the right to go to the toilet, get up in the morning and get on with our lives”.
“It is an amazing fund that has changed people’s lives fundamentally. I would not be the person I am today, with the position I am in today, if it had not been for the ILF.”
Another disabled actor, Lisa Hammond, who was at the protest to support friends who used ILF, said the decision to close the fund was “shocking” and “really sad”.
She said: “It’s a pretty grim situation. If it happened it would be a dark day. We haven’t come far but the distance we have come, we don’t want to go back.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission “intervened” in the case, to argue that if the government’s policy adversely affected the right to live independently and be included in the community (article 19 of the UN Convention), and was made without “appropriate information”, it was likely to breach the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty.
The claimants are asking the court to quash the decision to close ILF. Judgment in the case has been reserved, and is expected within four weeks.
Linda Burnip, a co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, which has supported the claimants in their legal action, said she was optimistic about the chances of the case succeeding.
She said that she and other campaigners had been encouraged by the Department for Work and Pensions’ decision to drop its appeal against another high-profile court action involving disabled people – in which her disabled son was one of the successful claimants – as the ILF judicial review was taking place.
That case saw the Court of Appeal ruling that the government had breached the Human Rights Act by not allowing the housing benefit claims of four young disabled people to be treated differently to claims of non-disabled people.
14 March 2013