Doubts have emerged over whether the coalition will offer enough funding to provide anything more than a “safety net” to former users of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) after it closes, following the release of confidential government documents.
The papers were handed over by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as part of last week’s judicial review of its decision to close ILF in April 2015, and pass responsibility for supporting users of the fund – and £300 million of non-ring-fenced funding – to local authorities.
Many ILF-users had assumed that this funding would continue to be handed to local authorities by the government in the years after 2016.
But lawyers for the five judicial review claimants – Stuart Bracking, Paris L’amour, Gabriel Pepper, Anne Pridmore and John Aspinall – now fear that this funding might last for just one year, 2015-16.
Their concerns appeared to be justified today (Thursday) by a DWP statement to Disability News Service (DNS).
It suggests that the 19,000 former ILF-users will only be able to rely on a local authority “safety net” after 2015, rather than the levels of support provided by ILF, which focuses on enabling disabled people to be independent, to work, and to contribute to their community.
Most of the papers seen by DNS are memos written by a senior DWP civil servant last autumn to Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people.
In one document, he tells McVey that, when reassessed for their needs by local authorities, most former ILF-users “are likely to see some reduction in the current funding levels”.
In another, he claims that postponing closure would not be in the best interests of ILF-users, because DWP would then have to secure £1.35 billion over the four years to April 2020 to maintain the current level of awards.
He adds: “In what will be a very difficult SR [spending review], HMT [the Treasury] will not be sympathetic to a bid for this funding.”
The documents suggest instead that the Department of Health will bid for funding for the former ILF-users for the four years to April 2020, but is almost certain not to receive anything like £300 million a year.
Louise Whitfield, of solicitors Deighton Pierce Glynn, who represents three of the judicial review claimants, said she was concerned – from the evidence she had seen, and from last week’s two-day trial – that the transition funding of £300 million for 2015-16 might not be repeated in the following years.
She added: “My clients were particularly concerned that, as a result of the litigation, documents were disclosed that suggested the funding position post-2015 was very unclear, and that there had been no adequate explanation of this within the consultation process, which meant they were not in a position to comment on the DWP’s true plans.”
Judgment in the ILF case is expected next month.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “ILF funding will be devolved to local authorities after 2015, and will be subject to the normal spending review process.
“All disabled people, including those transferring from the ILF, will continue to be protected by a local authority safety net that guarantees disabled people get the support they need.”
The Department of Health passed a request for a comment to DWP.
The DWP documents also reveal officials’ surprise that none of the large disability charities had requested meetings with the minister when the government suggested ILF would be closed, while some had not even responded to last year’s consultation.
One memo summarises the position of Scope as “concerned weak agreement” with government plans, that of the MS Society as “concerned agreement”, and that of Mencap as “pragmatic agreement”.
Stuart Bracking, one of the five claimants, called on “disabled people’s organisations and the impairment-based charities to oppose the ILF’s closure in both words and deeds if we are to stop a return to when severely disabled people were routinely institutionalised, and disabled people in general had limited life chances”.
He said DWP officials had given the “clear impression” to ministers that both Scope and the MS Society were in “agreement” with closure of the ILF in 2015.
He said: “If either charity is in opposition to closure by 2015 they have a duty to their members and those they claim to speak for to publicly make clear senior DWP civil servants gave ministers the wrong impression, whether in their view this was misleading or not.”
Scope’s chief executive, Richard Hawkes, said the charity had been “clear with the government throughout this process that we strongly oppose the closure of the ILF at this time”.
But he added: “Whilst we would not have used the words the government has to categorise our position on the ILF, its summary of our response did specifically reference our caveat about only closing the ILF when the existing funding constraints have been addressed and therefore we feel it accurately captures our concerns.”
The MS Society has so far failed to comment.
21 March 2013