Independent Living Fund closure: Minister silent over claim he misled MPs


newslatestThe minister for disabled people is facing accusations that he misled parliament over the level of support for the government’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF).

Mark Harper told MPs this week that he had “talked to disability organisations about this matter, and they agree with the government” that the ILF should be closed and non-ring-fenced funding passed instead to local authorities.

His comments, in answer to a question from Labour MP John Healey, came on the same day the high court ruled that Harper’s ministerial predecessor, Mike Penning, had not breached the Equality Act when taking the latest decision to close the fund.

Mrs Justice Andrews concluded that Penning had been aware of the “inevitable and considerable adverse effect which the closure of the fund will have, particularly on those who, as a consequence, will lose the ability to live independently”.

But despite this “considerable adverse effect”, Harper insisted in the House of Commons that disability organisations had agreed with the government that the fund should close.

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman refused to say which disability organisations Harper was referring to, but claimed: “The minister meets regularly with a broad range of disability groups… that is what he was saying.”

Disabled campaigners have strongly questioned Harper’s claims of support among disability organisations.

Michelle Maher, from the WOWcampaign, said: “I watched this in the House of Commons live and nearly choked at the time.

“WOWcampaign has definitely not had contact with them and [neither have any other disability]organisations we know of. Nor would we agree with this, given cash-strapped councils.”

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) also said it did not agree with the government’s policy on ILF closure.

Sue Bott, DR UK’s director of policy and development, said: “Whoever the disability organisations are who government are claiming agree with them, it does not include us.”

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) is collecting signatures on an open letter, so that disability organisations can again make clear their opposition to ILF closure.

The letter, which states that the ILF closure “effectively signals the end of the right to independent living for disabled people in the UK”, has so far been signed by nearly 40 organisations, most of which are disability organisations, and more than 500 individuals.

DPAC is also planning a lobby of MPs in the House of Commons on the ILF closure on 6 January, from 2pm.

Pat Onions, founder of Pat’s Petition, said: “There really is no satisfactory way to answer someone who claims he has support from disability organisations he refuses to name.

“We could show [Harper] the growing list of disability organisations who are signing the DPAC statement in support of ILF and suggest he must be mistaken.”

11 December 2014