Mike Penning, the Conservative minister for disabled people, told MPs today (6 March) in a written statement that he wanted to close ILF next year, despite the government admitting that most of the 18,000 users now faced the “real possibility” of a cut in funding.
Penning’s decision was greeted with dismay, anger and frustration by ILF-users and disabled activists.
Many campaigners believed the battle had been won when five ILF-users secured a high-profile court of appeal victory last November over the government’s decision to close the fund.
But despite the court ruling that Esther McVey, the then minister for disabled people, had breached the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty, the judgment meant only that the government had to reconsider its decision, this time paying “proper attention” to its legal obligations.
Penning told MPs today that he had now “taken time to reflect on the court of appeal’s decision” and had decided to go ahead with the original decision to close ILF, although he would delay the closure by three months until 30 June 2015.
Stuart Bracking, one of the five ILF-users who defeated the government in court, said Penning’s decision had been “greeted with dismay by some ILF-users involved in the campaign to save the fund”.
He said they could not understand how Penning could go ahead with closing ILF – a government-funded trust which helps more than 18,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently, by topping up their local authority-funded support – given the court of appeal decision.
But Bracking said that he and other ILF-users would fight on.
He added: “The fact that more than 400,000 disabled people are currently in residential and nursing care speaks volumes about the limitations of local authority funding – a figure greater than when ‘care in the community’ began more than 30 years ago.
“At a time when local authorities are making cuts of more than one third to their social services budgets [comparing 2010 to 2015 and the years afterwards], it is a brutal decision by Penning to continue with the fund’s closure.”
In 2015-16, ILF funding will be passed by the government to local authorities, and the devolved governments in Wales and Scotland, but this money will not be ring-fenced.
The Department for Work and Pensions has also been criticised for not saying whether this transition funding will be repeated in future years.
Anne Pridmore, another of the five who succeeded in the court of appeal, said she was glad she had taken the legal action, but was not surprised by Penning’s decision.
She said: “With this government it doesn’t matter what you do, they seem to do whatever they want.”
She said disabled people should have “made more fuss” in 2010 when the government decided to close the fund to new claimants.
The disabled performer, writer and activist Liz Carr, an ILF-user herself, said the closure news was “devastating”.
She said a future without ILF was “terrifying”, and closing it would “inevitably lead to the erosion of independence, inclusion and freedom for disabled people who have high levels of need”.
She said the fund enabled her to “pay people to do the things I physically can’t do which enables me to get up in the morning, work and have the same kinds of opportunities as everyone else”.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said the decision was “a cut masquerading as a reform”, and was made with no thought about the “impact of the closure on the lives of disabled people”.
She added: “Through the legal challenge it became clear that the likelihood of the government funding ILF support after 2016 was very small.
“It is equally clear that the mainstream social care system operated by local authorities – that the government said would be able to take over meeting the needs of ILF-users – can do no such thing.
“This is a service in crisis that is failing to provide even the most basic of personal care to increasing numbers of people.”
Ellen Clifford, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, which supported the legal challenge, said the fight to save ILF had to continue, because local authority support “was already failing to meet the needs and rights of disabled people under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”.
She added: “The strength and resolve of grassroots disabled people got us this far and we are not giving up now.”
One ILF-user did publicly welcome the closure.
Simon Stevens, a consultant and campaigner, said closure was “the only choice available to move the social care agenda forward, as opposed to keeping it in the past” and maintaining a “two-tier social care system”.
He said: “I have discussed the closure with many disabled and non-disabled colleagues, who agree the fund should close and that it represented a level of elitism that does not fit well into the notion of equality.”
He said the closure would help in the move towards an “integrated social care system that supports people in fulfilling their outcomes in a manner that is responsive, effective and value for money”.
Penning told MPs he accepted that many ILF-users believed that closing the fund “will affect their ability to continue to live independently in their own homes, to pursue educational and employment opportunities, and to participate in social activities”.
But he added: “I do not believe that continuing a separate system of support, operating through a discretionary trust and outside the statutory mainstream adult social care system, is the right approach.”
A new equality analysis of the government’s decision says it is “almost certain that closure of the ILF will mean that the majority of users will face changes to the way their support is delivered, including the real possibility of a reduction to the funding they currently receive”.
This could mean that current users will no longer be able to employ a personal assistant, it adds.
Some of the responses to a consultation carried out in 2012 by the government on its original decision to close the fund paint a chilling picture of the impact that closure could have on ILF-users.
One respondent said: “Before I was introduced to the ILF I was looked after by the local authority. I had no life at all, just a horrible existence.
“I didn’t get out of bed for months at a time. I was not encouraged to take part in life with the children. My care was extremely basic – to be kept clean, fed and medicated.”
Another said: “ILF allows me to do, as closely as possible, what normal human beings do. I do not do ‘activities’ or ‘access the community’ – I go out for a drive, for a picnic, to visit people, the kind of things ‘real’ people do.”
6 March 2014