A disabled activist has handed in a petition of hundreds of signatures that calls on the Welsh government to reverse its decision to close its version of the Independent Living Fund (ILF).
Nathan Lee Davies (pictured) says he is fighting the decision to scrap the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) because he is terrified of the prospect of his cash-strapped local authority taking over full responsibility for providing his care package.
He has been told that without WILG his own care package would be reduced from 86.5 hours to just 31 hours a week.
He says that such a cut would put an end to all his current community activities, including his involvement with Wrexham Glyndwr University, Wrexham football club, Disabled People Against Cuts, FDF Centre for Independent Living, and the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales.
He is also writing two books, and a blog, and is working with Disability Arts Cymru to create a performance and exhibition of his poetry.
He told Disability News Service (DNS): “I cannot cope with such a limited number of hours per week. This is why I am fighting with every fibre of my being.
“It really is a case of life or death. I have no interests in merely existing. I want to live.
“Without help and support I would be unable to do any of this work that involves me in the community.”
The Labour-run Welsh government announced last November that, after a two-year transition period, it would transfer all of the £27 million-a-year provided by the UK government to support former ILF-users in Wales directly to councils.
There will be no new Welsh ILF – even though such a scheme has been set up in Scotland – and no continuation of the interim WILG scheme the Welsh government has been running as a stopgap to “ensure continuity of payments to recipients” since the Department for Work and Pensions closed ILF in June 2015.
Funding for WILG will now transfer to local authorities during 2018-19, with all former ILF-recipients in Wales having their support needs met solely by their local authority by 31 March 2019.
Since the Welsh government’s announcement, Davies has been campaigning to persuade it to reverse the decision, including setting up the petition – which has now been signed by more than 500 people online and in person – and collecting photographs of supporters holding one of his campaign postcards.
He said: “The current system allows users the security of depending on receiving their funding from three different ‘pots’ – WILG, local authorities and our own personal contribution.
“This gives us a sense of security and ensures that we cannot be dictated to as mere passive recipients.
“Instead, all parties have to be in agreement about what will benefit the individual the most.
“This is something worth fighting for.”
But instead of this three-tier system, he said, the Welsh government had now “sold disabled people down the river.
“They are washing their hands of all responsibility for social care to former ILF recipients and transferring the pressure onto local authorities.”
A Welsh government spokeswoman told DNS in a statement: “Organisations that represent disabled people who have been recipients of the Independent Living Fund, recommended that their future support would be best provided through local authority social care provision, with consistent arrangements in place to support disabled people in Wales.”
But Disability Wales, which was part of the stakeholder advisory group the Welsh government consulted, has made it clear to DNS that it did not support passing funding to local authorities.
The Welsh government added: “We would be surprised if Disability Wales were suggesting that certain disabled people in Wales should have their support needs met in a different way to other disabled people.”
Davies said he believed the Welsh government had listened only to the local authorities on the advisory group.
He has been supported by the north-east branch of the Labour left-wing grassroots campaign Momentum and the Unite union in Wales.
But he said he was disappointed that Disability Wales – the national association of disabled people’s organisations in Wales – had not supported his campaign.
Miranda Evans, policy and programmes manager for Disability Wales (DW), said they were not able to support the petition – which is critical of the Labour party in Wales – because it was too party political.
But she stressed that DW’s preferred option was for a new Welsh independent living scheme – a Welsh version of ILF – that would protect those currently receiving WILG funding and would also be open to new members.
DNS has seen DW’s response to an early consultation on the Welsh government’s plans, and it makes it clear that none of DW’s members or the other disabled people it had consulted about the future of WILG were in favour of handing the funding directly to local authorities, and had instead “expressed strong opposition” to this.
It also stressed that such an option was “totally unacceptable to existing ILF recipients, their carers and other disabled people”.