Some of the disabled people who currently use the Independent Living Fund (ILF) could be “adversely affected” by its closure, the minister for disabled people has admitted.
But Mike Penning told fellow MPs that he believed passing ILF funding from the Department for Work and Pensions to local authorities would be an improvement on the current two-tier system, in which some disabled people with high support needs receive ILF and some do not.
Nic Dakin, the Labour MP who secured the short debate, said that ILF-users feared becoming less independent when the fund closed.
He said: “They fear losing their jobs, the staff whom they employ to support them, and their independence. They fear being forced out of their homes and into institutions.”
ILF is a government-resourced trust which helps about 18,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently, but the coalition plans to close it in June 2015 and pass the non-ring-fenced funding to local authorities.
Dakin’s fellow Labour MP Ian Lavery said he believed that “the dignity, the independence and the human rights of disabled people who need that high level of support can only be met by the continuation of the ILF”.
Another Labour MP, the shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry, said 100 disabled people were dependent on ILF in her Islington constituency in north London.
She said: “Although the local authority has undertaken to continue that support next year for those currently in receipt of ILF, the authority cannot give any guarantee that that funding will go on in future, in particular given that Islington council is facing 40 per cent cuts over the year.
“Discretionary funding such as for independent living will be difficult to find.”
A third Labour MP, Andy Slaughter, said that ILF-users were often “among the most active people in the community”, whether they were working, playing sport or promoting disability rights, and he pointed to two leading disabled activists, Debbie Domb and Kevin Caulfield, who he said “do a lot of positive good”.
He added: “The removal of ILF will be bad not just for them, but for my community as a whole.”
But Penning said: “Can I guarantee that no-one in receipt of ILF money today will be adversely affected by the changes that we are going to make? No, I cannot, and no minister of any colour or persuasion could.”
He said that some of the “scare stories” about the closure of ILF that have appeared in the media were “unfounded”.
He told MPs: “Do I think that localism is better than a top-down approach? Yes, I do. I understand the concerns; but let us see how things roll out.”
Penning claimed that disabled people with high support needs who have been unable to join ILF since it was closed to new members in 2010 have had their needs met by local authorities.
He said: “The subject is enormously emotive and important, but we must not make assumptions about what will happen.
“My reason for thinking that we can have some confidence is that the scheme has been closed since 2010, so people with exactly the same needs as the people we have heard about in the debate have had them met by the new system. They have been helped by it.”
And Penning said it was “vital not to have a two-tier system, as we do at the moment”, and suggested that he would order a league table of local authorities to compare how they handled the ILF closure.
DWP is currently facing a fresh legal action being brought by three ILF-users, who are seeking a judicial review of Penning’s decision to close the fund.
18 June 2014