Disabled activists have asked why the government is refusing to answer key questions about severe cuts to the support packages of former users of the Independent Living Fund (ILF).
Both the Department of Health (DH) – which is responsible for social care policy – and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) have refused to say whether they are monitoring the impact of the fund’s closure on disabled people.
Disability News Service (DNS) has already reported on two local authorities where former ILF-users have seen their support packages slashed since the fund closed.
ILF was funded by the Department for Work and Pensions and when it closed on 30 June was helping nearly 17,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently.
But the coalition government decided that it should be scrapped, promising instead that nine months’ worth of non-ring-fenced funding would be transferred through DCLG to councils in England, and to devolved governments in Wales and Scotland.
This transition process has been hit by reports of cuts to the care packages of former ILF-users, but both DH and DCLG are refusing to answer key questions about the measures they have taken to ensure their support.
Among the questions they refuse to answer are: whether they are concerned about reports of former ILF-users facing significant cuts to their support; how they see the overall picture across England since the fund closed; and whether they are making any attempts to monitor the impact of closure on former ILF-users.
They have also refused to confirm – as alleged by at least one local authority – that DCLG did not pass on the full equivalent of the annual support that would previously have been paid to each ILF-user, but instead cut it by three per cent.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “The refusal of DCLG and DH to answer even a few simple questions about the transfer process surrounding the closure of the ILF implies that they have something that they want to hide; otherwise there would be no need for this complete lack of transparency.”
And Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “Central government seems to have tried to wash its hands of all responsibility for meeting the social care support needs for former ILF recipients, but we will continue to hold them to account.”
The closure of ILF came at a time when councils were already facing huge funding pressures, with the latest (provisional) official figures showing a three per cent decrease in real terms in adult social care spending in 2014-15, compared with 2013-14, and an eight per cent fall since 2009-10.
Barbara Keeley, Labour’s shadow minister for older people, social care and carers, said: “This government’s failure to face-up to the care crisis in England has left many vulnerable people without the help and support they need.
“Ministers must now come clean about whether funding passed to councils has been top-sliced, and if so how many people have had their support cut as a consequence.
“It is vital that the needs of former ILF recipients are met so they can live independently and with dignity.”
A DCLG spokeswoman refused to answer specific questions from DNS, but said in a statement: “We have ensured that there is sufficient funding to maintain support packages for all existing Independent Living Fund users.
“We have also encouraged local authorities to use any surplus funds to provide further social care.”
A DH spokeswoman also refused to answer key questions, but said in a statement: “We are committed to ensuring adults with care and support needs are properly supported by local authorities – our Care Act puts a duty on local authorities to assess and meet the eligible needs of people.”
She said that 94 per cent of all former ILF-users had already been receiving some services from their local authority prior to the fund’s closure, and that “authorities will now be responsible for meeting all eligible needs for these people”.
She said that DH had issued guidance to councils to help them prepare for the transfer, while the new care and support reform programme board was monitoring the impact of the Care Act.
She added: “If anyone with care and support needs, including former ILF-users, are unhappy with how their needs are being met, they can use the complaints procedure or take their concern to the Local Government Ombudsman.”
But one local authority, Waltham Forest, in London, has confirmed to Disability News Service that its ILF transition funding was cut by three per cent by DCLG before it was handed over.
A Waltham Forest council spokeswoman said: “When the government transferred ILF funding to the council, the overall funding amount was reduced by three per cent… this was intended to allow for overall expected changes in client circumstances.
“The DCLG will need to comment on why they decided to reduce the funding by three per cent – this was their decision.”
Waltham Forest is one of the councils where there have been severe cuts to support, with 53 of 60 former ILF-users seeing their packages cut after being reassessed.
The council spokeswoman said: “We have reviewed everyone receiving a service and depending on a person’s current individual circumstances, some people will receive less support and others will receive more.
“Everyone goes through the same assessment process to ensure that packages are allocated fairly and by current need.
“Our intention is to ensure the funding is being used by everyone who needs it, in a way that can meet those needs, not simply to pass the funding on to individuals based on an old assessment of their needs which may no longer reflect their current situation.”
She added: “We also advise individuals of their right to appeal if they have concerns about their care and support and will carefully review each decision on a case-by-case basis.”