The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has refused to say how many disabled people who took part in a major public consultation were opposed to its decision to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF).
Esther McVey the Conservative minister for disabled people, confirmed last month that ILF would close in April 2015, with funding passed to local authorities and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, although this money will not be ring-fenced.
DWP has admitted that a “significant majority” of individuals who responded to the consultation were opposed to closure, but it is refusing to say exactly how strong that opposition was.
This mirrors its decision to block the release of individual responses to its disability living allowance consultation, which disabled activists say was also to prevent the true scale of opposition from becoming known.
DWP has admitted receiving about 2,000 responses to the ILF consultation, including 96 written responses from disabled people’s organisations, 78 from local authorities and 14 from other organisations.
There were hundreds of other responses from individual disabled people, including more than 400 from ILF-users and their representatives who attended consultation events.
But in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from disabled activist Linda Burnip, a co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, DWP claimed most respondents to the ILF consultation provided “lengthy, detailed and nuanced responses” and so it was “not possible to provide meaningful statistics on how many responses held particular beliefs or raised particular arguments or opinions”.
Burnip said: “How can they say the outcome of the consultation is that the ILF is going to close when they can’t give us any quantitative data to say how many people or local authorities were in favour of transferring the money to local authorities?
“I think this reinforces the case that government consultations are a total sham, and that the government makes the decisions beforehand.”
Many activists believe the plans to close ILF – a government-funded trust which helps about 19,000 disabled people with the highest support needs – threaten disabled people’s right to independent living.
They say the government has offered no details on how councils would be able to meet the extra costs of people with high support needs who previously received ILF money, most of whom receive both ILF and council funding.
The government’s failure to provide a proper account of the ILF consultation is now likely to be used as evidence in a legal action being taken by ILF-users who want the courts to declare the consultation unlawful.
A DWP spokesman said: “Respondents were free to respond to the questions with any answer they wished and were not constrained to simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers.
“The overwhelming majority of respondents chose to provide longer responses with many expressing mixed feelings about the proposals or laying out conditions on which they would support it.
“Such responses cannot be simply categorised as ‘supportive’ or ‘opposing’ nor is it always clear when a respondent is intending to provide a ‘mixed’ response.
“We have provided in the government’s response a qualitative assessment of the opinions and arguments expressed by respondents with a high level assessment of the strength and extent of support for them.”
10 January 2013