Disabled activists have been told to target every single candidate in May’s general election, to demand their backing for the campaign to save the Independent Living Fund (ILF).
The call came as about 100 activists – many of them ILF-users – marched in the rain on Downing Street, held up traffic in Whitehall, and then lobbied MPs, in a fresh bid to avoid the planned closure of the ILF on 30 June.
A meeting in Westminster Hall, organised by the Green MP Caroline Lucas, was attended by 19 MPs who expressed support for their campaign, including members of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the SDLP.
So far, the Greens are the only party promising to reinstate the ILF in England, although the Scottish SNP government is to set up its own version of the fund from 1 July, while the Welsh government has just finished consulting on how to replace the ILF in Wales.
The ILF is a government-resourced trust which helps about 17,000 people with the highest support needs to live independently, but the government plans to close it and pass the non-ring-fenced funding to local authorities on 30 June.
Lucas told the meeting: “It is about basic human rights, and your right to be able to live independently and as we expect anybody else to do.”
She added: “You so clearly have right on your side. The more the general public hear your message, the more they will be on your side too. Don’t give up.
“The Green party stands with you. We would – if we were in government – reinstate the ILF.”
Several Labour MPs spoke out in the meeting in favour of keeping or restoring the ILF, in defiance of party policy.
Hayes and Harlington MP John McDonnell, who has close connections with the disabled people’s anti-cuts movement, told campaigners to target every MP and every candidate in the general election.
He said: “You have 120 days to get back into constituencies, contact every candidate – no more mealy-mouthed stuff – [and ask them]‘Will you back saving the ILF? If you don’t, we are coming for you.’
“I think you have to be absolutely ruthless. People’s lives are at stake here. We have lost too many people as a result of these cuts and we cannot lose any more.”
Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn said: “It is outrageous what is happening. The ILF was a step forward on the road to real independence.
“It is simply wrong. We have to reinvent the ILF and I hope to be in the next parliament and we can bring back the whole principle of independent living.”
Liz McInnes, who only became a Labour MP in October in the Heywood and Middleton by-election, said the closure of the ILF was causing “a great deal of concern” to her constituents.
She said: “I am going to fight and lobby and try to persuade my colleagues in the Labour party that this really is something we should be supporting.”
And Grahame Morris, Labour MP for Easington, County Durham, said: “I realise how important it is. You certainly have my support to persuade the next government that we should restore it.”
Some activists believe that the best chance of saving the ILF is to secure support from the smaller parties, such as the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru, who might then hold the balance of power in a new coalition after May’s election.
Others focus on the need to persuade the Labour party to reverse its position and to call in its manifesto for the ILF to be reinstated.
“We will do that up to the general election and we will do that beyond the general election.”
Linda Burnip, a DPAC co-founder, said they had been told by Labour’s frontbench that it was too late to save the ILF because it was being “wound down”, but she said that “simply is not true”.
DPAC member Paula Peters said that the votes of disabled people could swing marginal seats in the election.
She said: “We are fighting for the ILF to stay and we will fight to keep our right to independent living.”
ILF-user James Rose said the closure of the ILF would “impact on the wider diversity of society”.
He gained a first-class degree, with the help of the ILF, and was offered a job but had to turn it down because he was refused the necessary support from the government’s under-fire Access to Work scheme.
He said: “Combined with the ILF closure, the government are unnecessarily making people reliant on state benefits.
“I want to live a normal life. I want to work and earn my own way but this is impossible in the current situation.”
Comedian and ILF-user Laurence Clark said: “We hear a lot from the government about more disabled people getting into work.
“I work at the moment and the ILF enables me to work. Without the support of ILF… that would not be possible.”
He said the ILF should not be scrapped but should be developed as a national scheme providing a level of support that does not depend on where you live.
Gabriel Pepper, one of the two ILF-users who failed in the latest legal bid to overturn the government’s decision to close the ILF, said disabled people were being forced to pay the price of a financial crisis they did not cause.
He said: “Why are we forced to pay the price with our independence, with our lives? Why is it they think we are worth less?”
Actor Sophie Partridge said: “I have been an ILF-recipient for practically all my adult life and I cannot imagine – I do not want to have to imagine – life without it.
“Younger people who are in situations that I was in when I was 21, wanting to live independently, wanting the same opportunities as any other young person… I cannot see how that is going to be achievable without the ILF.”
Andrew Lee, director of People First (Self Advocacy), and his wife Olcay, told the meeting about a friend, Michelle, who had been forced into residential care because of the ILF’s imminent closure.
Michelle’s local authority is now facing a support bill four times as big as it did previously, while she herself is now having to pay about £100 towards the cost of her support and has had to make two personal assistants (PA) redundant.
Andrew Lee said this was an assault on Michelle’s “dignity, quality of life and ability to make choices and decisions”.
He appealed to MPs to “have the courage to stand up for what is right; the ILF is what is right”.
Mary Laver, an ILF-user for 25 years and a member of the Conservative party, who has played a key role in the campaign to save the fund, said that the jobs of at least eight personal assistants were at risk if she lost her ILF support.
She said: “If I lose the ILF I will not be able to do all the things I want to do. My future at the moment is bleak.
“I am 67 in June. I don’t think I should be living like that in England. We have to fight to keep our independence.”
Brian Hilton, an ILF-user from Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said in a message read out to the meeting that “independent living for disabled people is under threat”.
He said: “Disabled people want choice and control over their lives, which ILF currently enables.
“The UK should be proud of the ILF… without it, disabled people face being pushed back into the margins of society.”
7 January 2015