Three disabled people have won permission for a new legal attempt to derail the government’s planned closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF).
Stuart Bracking, Gabriel Pepper and John Aspinall want the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to withdraw its closure decision, which they say is unlawful.
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.
Less than two months ago, ILF’s annual report revealed that more than 99 per cent of disabled people who use the fund believe that it improves their ability to live independently.
Bracking, Pepper and Aspinall – who are represented by the law firms Deighton Pierce Glynn and Scott-Moncrieff & Associates – believe that losing their ILF support will threaten their right to live with dignity.
They say that closing ILF could force them into residential care or make it impossible to work or take part in everyday activities on an equal footing with other people.
Many campaigners believed the battle to overturn the closure decision had been won when Bracking, Pepper and Aspinall, and two other ILF-users, secured victory in the court of appeal last year.
The court ruled then that the decision to close ILF breached the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty, because Esther McVey – at the time the minister for disabled people – had not been given adequate information to assess the effect on ILF-users and their ability to live independently.
But that judgment meant only that the government had to reconsider its closure decision, this time paying “proper attention” to its legal obligations.
Mike Penning, the new minister – since replaced by fellow Conservative Mark Harper – told MPs in March that he had completed that duty and had decided to go ahead with the original decision to close ILF, although he delayed the closure date by three months until 30 June 2015.
But DWP admitted that in reconsidering the closure decision it had failed to consult any individuals or organisations outside government.
It also failed to gather any additional information from local authorities or other sources about what support former ILF-users would receive from social services once ILF was removed, or how many people would be likely to have to move into residential care or would lose their ability to work or study.
The Equality Act requires the government to advance equality of opportunity for disabled people, including meeting their needs, removing disadvantages and increasing their participation in public life.
Without the vital information about impact, Penning could not properly weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of closure with these objectives in mind, according to the trio’s lawyers.
High court judge Rabinder Singh has now ruled that the trio’s case that Penning’s decision breaches equality legislation is arguable and raises issues of public importance which must be resolved as soon as possible.
The case will now proceed to a full hearing, where the three claimants will ask the court once again to quash the decision to close the fund.
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which has campaigned against the closure – including a protest outside Westminster Abbey – welcomed the court’s decision.
Linda Burnip, a member of the DPAC steering group, said: “We’re delighted that this news helps vindicate DPAC’s position that the ILF should not only be retained but re-opened, as it will be in Scotland, to new recipients as well.
“Governments of all colours should be aware that disabled people are not willing to give up their hard-fought-for right to independent living and will continue to fight to keep this.”
7 August 2014