A government department has refused again to provide any details that would clarify vital disability-related announcements made by George Osborne in last week’s spending review.
For the second week running, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has been unable to explain exactly what the chancellor meant when he announced funding for new accessible housing, and for disabled facilities grants (DFGs).
And eight days after the chancellor’s announcement, and the publication of detailed documents by the Treasury, DCLG is still refusing to comment on whether it will provide a second year’s funding to local authorities to compensate for the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF).
ILF was funded by the Department for Work and Pensions, and when it closed on 30 June 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 through DCLG to councils in England, and to devolved governments in Wales and Scotland.
The government has always insisted that any grants in 2016-17 would depend on the spending review, but DCLG has yet to say what grants – if any – it will now make.
The spending review also includes a pledge to build 8,000 “specialist” homes for older and disabled people, and promises “over £500 million by 2019-20 for the [DFG], which will fund around 85,000 home adaptations that year”.
If that DFG pledge represented annual funding, it would signal an increase of more than 170 per cent, compared with DFG spending of £185 million in 2014-15, but if it represented total funding in the four years to 2019-20, it would signify a steep cut.
Despite repeated requests for DCLG to clarify the position on ILF, DFGs and accessible housing, its press office has so far failed to respond.
But there was better news from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which has now clarified the chancellor’s announcement of increased funding for Access to Work (AtW), the government scheme which provides help to disabled workers with travel to work, purchase of specialist equipment and support workers.
The spending review included the announcement of a “real terms” increase in spending on AtW, which the government said would help “a further 25,000 disabled people each year to remain in work”.
DWP has now told Disability News Service that this will mean the government will make funding available for what is hoped to be an increase in the total number of disabled people helped by the scheme every year from about 35,000 now to about 60,000 by 2021.
A DWP spokeswoman said the extra 25,000 users a year was “not a target”, because the scheme was “demand-led”, but was intended to show that ministers hoped for a significant increase in disabled people in employment through their ambition to “halve the disability employment gap”.
She said: “This is to make sure that there will be funding in place to support that.”
Because the programme is demand-led, the Treasury has not said how spending on AtW will increase by 2021 from its current level of about £100 million a year.
The DWP spokeswoman said: “There is not a monetary figure attached to this. We will make sure the funding is in place to meet that [figure of 65,000]. It will be a real-terms increase.”
At its peak, in 2009-10, under the last Labour government, AtW was supporting more than 37,000 disabled people a year, but this plunged under the coalition to 30,780 in 2011-12, although it has increased again in the last three years.
The latest figures, published in October, show 36,820 disabled people were helped in 2014-15, still below the figure of 37,270 for 2009-10.
Despite the increasing number of claimants, research by disability organisations earlier this year found that nearly all AtW claimants whose entitlements had been reviewed were having their support cut.
Picture: Activists campaigning to halt the closure of the Independent Living Fund taking part in a protest in the grounds of Westminster Abbey in 2014