ILF judicial review: Shock at judge’s ruling


theweek-whiteFive users of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) are to appeal against a “shocking” high court ruling that the government’s decision to close the fund was not unlawful.

Disabled activists had gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice on Wednesday morning (24 April) to hear the judgment, expecting to be able to celebrate a rare victory over the coalition’s programme of cuts and reforms to the support needed to live independently.

But soon after arriving, they were told by lawyers for the five claimants that the judge, Mr Justice Blake, had dismissed the judicial review of both the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) decision to close the fund late last year and an earlier consultation.

In his judgment, he said he had concluded that the government’s consultation was “candid and open”, despite examples of missing information brought to his attention by the claimants’ solicitors.

And he said he was satisfied that Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, had been aware of her legal duties under the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty, and had paid “sufficient regard” to those duties.

After ILF’s closure, responsibility for supporting users of the fund – and £300 million of non-ring-fenced funding – will pass to local authorities.

But confidential government papers released during the judicial review suggested that the 19,000 former ILF-users will in future only be able to rely on a local authority “safety net”, rather than the levels of support provided by ILF, which focuses on enabling them to be independent, to work, and to contribute to their communities.

Anne Pridmore, one of the five claimants, who had attended the first day of the two-day hearing in March, said she believed the judge had not understood “what independent living meant or how disabled people’s lives were going to be ruined”.

She said the impact of the ILF closure would be “terrible”, and that some disabled people – particularly older people – would be forced into residential homes.

Pridmore added: “They can’t put us all in care but [the rest of us]will be subject to one of these pop-in services three or four times a day and we will have no quality of life.”

Stuart Bracking, another of the claimants, said he believed ILF could still be saved, but only if there was a bigger campaigning effort by disabled people’s organisations, and a push to ensure that the public heard the stories of how disabled people use the fund to live independently.

He said: “As a movement, we have to want to save it.”

Jenny Hurst, an ILF-user who is also on the fund’s advisory panel, and was one of the campaigners waiting outside the court on Wednesday, said she was “absolutely gutted” by the decision.

She said: “This case is about giving disabled people the opportunities that we need to be able to participate in the way the government wants us to.

“The government has said it will protect people in most need, but clearly that is not the case.”

She said ILF had already begun the process of reassessing users of the fund in advance of its closure in 2015.

Hurst said she might lose 48 hours of assistance a week when it closes. “I think it would be very difficult for local authorities to find the money to be able to suddenly pick up the bill for all the extra assistance that people actually need, rather than want.”

She is convinced she would have to give up her full-time job supporting other disabled people – with the user-led organisation Action Disability Kensington and Chelsea – because the Access to Work scheme does not cover the assistance she needs at work.

She said: “It is a wrong decision and I cannot understand with all the evidence and all the information put forward to support the case why the judge has said everything was OK with the consultation. It really wasn’t.”

Andy Greene, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, who had attended the second day of the hearing in March, said he was “very disappointed”, “surprised” and “a little bit confused” by the ruling.

He said the case was about the essential dignity of disabled people, but he added: “For the government, it is about the lowest common denominator. Instead of raising the barrier for people who weren’t on the ILF, they have decided to drag the standard down.”

Louise Whitfield, of solicitors Deighton Pierce Glynn, who represents three of the judicial review claimants, said she had been “very, very shocked” by the decision.

She said: “The claimants’ position remains that there was no evidence the minister for disabled people had met the public sector equality duty, so we are very surprised at both the outcome and the written ruling, because it doesn’t reflect the claimants’ arguments made at the hearing and the evidence as presented.”

She added: “I have spent the last few days since we received the draft judgment trying to grapple with the judge’s approach to both the substantive issue and the evidence and legal arguments and I don’t understand why he reached the conclusions he did.”

Although the judge did not grant leave to appeal, the claimants will now apply directly to the court of appeal for permission to do so.

A DWP spokeswoman said ILF was closed to new users in 2010 and it was now “devolving funding to local authorities to ensure the remaining users have their needs met in a single cohesive system”.

She said: “The judge agreed the consultation had been carried out correctly and has refused permission for the claimants to appeal. If the court of appeal gives permission to appeal, DWP will defend such an appeal.”

25 April 2013