Independent Living Fund: Government should be ‘held to account’ on UN convention


newslatestThe government should be “held to account” over its failure to meet its independent living obligations under the UN disability convention, according to a leading disabled peer.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell said that disabled people would be “stuffed” if the government went ahead with plans to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in 2015 and pass the non-ring-fenced money to local authorities instead.

She spoke out as the government continued to debate its next move, in the wake of three court of appeal judges upholding an appeal challenging the decision to close the fund.

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman said in a statement: “The court of appeal judgment is being considered carefully and any plans will be announced in due course.”

But Baroness Campbell, a leading campaigner on independent living, although not an ILF-user, said she particularly welcomed the decision by Lord Justice Elias, one of the three judges, to refer to the UK’s “specific obligations” under article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Lord Justice Elias stated that article 19 meant the UK government should “take effective and appropriate measures” to “facilitate” the right for disabled people to live in the community, a duty “which would require where appropriate the promotion of independent living”.

He added: “There was no evidence that any of these considerations were in the mind of the minister.”

Baroness Campbell secured a similar recommendation when she sat on the joint committee on human rights (JCHR), for its investigation into the implementation of article 19.

She said: “That was one of my recommendations when I did the JCHR inquiry into article 19. [The closure of ILF] came up then as a major threat and that the government should do something to maintain that independence.”

The JCHR inquiry, which reported last year, concluded that it was “extremely concerned that the closure of the Independent Living Fund to new applicants, with no ring-fenced alternative source of funding, may severely limit the ability of disabled people to participate in society”.

Baroness Campbell said the government could not ignore the UN convention.

She added: “We should see it as a success that this challenge has been made because we now have the opportunity to hold the government to account over its breach of the UN convention, so let’s use it and hold them to account and say, ‘What are you going to do?'”

Meanwhile, Jenny Morris, the writer and campaigner, and retired academic, published a blog this week which also pointed to the UN convention, which she said had “the right to independent living at its heart”.

Morris, who advised the last Labour government on its influential independent living strategy, Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, wrote in her blog: “Far from abolishing the ILF we need a system which builds on the way it has enabled thousands to lead ‘ordinary lives’.

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

She said the system needed to be free of any postcode lottery and means-testing.

She also said that the five disabled ILF-users who fought the court case had “shown us that we need something worth fighting for – and the current tinkering with the social care system is not it”.

The new minister for disabled people, Mike Penning, has yet to respond to calls for a face-to-face meeting with ILF-users.

The DWP spokesman said: “Requests for meetings with the minister are handled through the ministerial office in the usual way.

There was also reaction to last week’s calls for Ester McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people at the time the decision was made to close the fund, to resign from her current post as employment minister.

Mark Wilson wrote on the Promove website that he understood that it was hard as a disabled person not to read the criticism of McVey’s actions in the judgment and “see resignation as the way to make amends”.

But he said he believed that it was the “culture and style” of decision-making in government that needed to change, or else “ill-thought-through decision-making at the highest levels will continue to weaken our society and reduce still further the trust we have, or don’t have, in our politicians”.

21 November 2013