Almost half of former recipients of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in a London borough are facing cuts to their care packages, after their council rejected the chance to ask for more social care funds by raising council tax.
Labour-run Merton council in south-west London had the chance to increase council tax by 1.7 per cent to pay for extra social care funding, but turned down the opportunity because of an election promise not to increase taxes for four years.
The end of an extra tax that Londoners have been paying for the last 10 years to fund the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games meant the council could have asked for extra money for social care without seeing overall council tax rates increase for 2016-17.
The council has also refused to ring-fence government money – given to local authorities following the closure of the ILF last year – to support only former ILF-recipients, using it instead more widely across social care.
In January, the council faced protests over its plans to cut £5 million from its adult social care budget, with campaigners comparing these plans to “social cleansing”, and accusing it of “treating people no better than animals in Longleat”.
In contrast, Government figures published this week show that councils in England overall will increase spending on adult social care by £308 million in 2016-17.
Campaigners say that disabled people who use direct payments in the borough are already losing their personal assistants (PAs) and finding it difficult to replace them because hourly rates have been frozen by the council for the last five years.
A Merton council spokeswoman said: “The council has made a decision to ring-fence the grant from the government for adult social care, and to treat all our customers equitably over how personal budgets are set.
“Over half of the former ILF-users’ care hours will stay the same while others will see their care hours slightly reduced.”
She said the council was reviewing the rate it paid service-users who receive direct payments “to ensure that it enables the market to meet our customers’ needs”.
She said: “In our experience, the current Direct Payment hourly rate is not significantly lower than the previous rate for former ILF-users because the ILF did not have a standard rate for their users, and in fact in two cases we found that the council rate is higher than what former ILF-users were paying.
“Regarding the precept for social care, this was debated openly and at considerable length by the council in March when setting its budget, weighing up all factors including its promise to residents not to increase council tax.”
The council has refused to provide further clarity on the proportion of former ILF-users facing cuts, and how much of a cut they are facing.
Merton Centre for Independent Living (Merton CIL) said the council’s statement raised serious concerns.
Lyla Adwan-Kamara, Merton CIL’s chief executive, said: “At Merton CIL we’re very disappointed to hear that nearly half of former ILF-users are seeing cuts to their support by Merton council.
“We would question how these cuts can possibly enable people’s wellbeing in line with the Care Act, and in some cases we fear that people’s wellbeing and independence will be undermined.
“In one case we know of, there is a 16 per cent cut, equivalent to over a day’s support a week.
“We would also point out that for people whose support has been frozen, we’ve been made aware of a number of cases where they have been asked to pay more towards their care, even though they have not had an increase in their income; this is also effectively a cut.
“At the time when the council was setting their budget, it was made clear by the voluntary sector, many council officers, and many councillors themselves, that the social care precept should be applied, and, because of other changes to council tax, this could be done without any impact on residents’ pockets.
“Instead, the decision was made not to implement the precept, and council tax in Merton has gone down.
“We hope that this decision will be reviewed this year, and there has been a public commitment by the council to hold a consultation on the matter.
“In the meantime, we strongly urge anyone affected by cuts to social care to get in touch with us and we will try to offer support for people to speak up and address the issue.”
ILF was funded by the Department for Work and Pensions, and by last year it was helping nearly 17,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently.
But ministers decided it should be scrapped, promising instead that nine months’ worth of non-ring-fenced funding would be transferred to councils in England and to devolved governments in Wales and Scotland, to cover the period from its closure last summer to April 2016.
The Scottish government has since set up its own ILF for existing recipients in Scotland, while the Welsh government has set up a ring-fenced, local authority-run grant scheme that will run until at least 31 March 2017.
The minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, announced in February that the government would provide another four years of transition funding to local authorities in England in 2016-17 (£177 million), 2017-18 (£171 million), 2018-19 (£166 million) and 2019-20 (£161 million), but that the money would again not be ring-fenced.