Disabled activists have angrily dismissed the attempts of three Labour leadership contenders to win support by suddenly voicing opposition to the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF).
They are furious that Andy Burnham (pictured), Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall are now claiming that they oppose the closure, even though they repeatedly failed to support campaigners before the fund closed for good last month.
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) both spoke out in the wake of Burnham’s sudden claim – in response to questions from Disability News Service (DNS) last week – that he was “against the cruel abolition of the Independent Living Fund”.
After reading the comments, DPAC released a YouTube video of Burnham being quizzed about the ILF closure by DPAC’s Linda Burnip at Labour’s spring conference in March.
In the clip, Burnham – the shadow health secretary – does not appear to be well-briefed on the issue, but promises to meet with DPAC and Inclusion London to discuss the closure. That meeting never took place.
DPAC said that Kendall – the shadow care services minister – also “kept cancelling meetings” that were arranged to discuss the closure.
Of the four leadership contenders, only Jeremy Corbyn – the surprise front-runner in the contest – has previously made clear his opposition to ILF closure.
He even co-sponsored an early day motion last December which supported the fight to save ILF. He told DNS last week that Labour should have opposed the closure.
This week, a spokesman for Burnham said: “Andy is clear that cuts to disability benefits will be a red line and he has opposed the abolition of the ILF.
“Before this leadership election, Andy was bound by collective responsibility and this policy was not within his remit as shadow health secretary.
“However, in that role he has fought social care funding cuts and is calling for a National Health and Care Service.”
When asked why Burnham had not kept his promise to meet disabled activists to discuss the ILF closure, his spokesman said: “Since he met campaigners at the Labour spring conference in March, he has been campaigning full time for the general election and now the party leadership.”
A spokeswoman for Cooper said: “Yvette has already said she thinks this is a mistake.”
When asked to provide further details of when she spoke out about the ILF closure and why she did not speak out sooner, Cooper’s spokeswoman said: “I don’t have a specific speech to give you but she has said this consistently since I started working for her two years ago.”
A spokeswoman for Kendall pointed to speeches in which she mentioned the impact of the ILF closure on disabled people’s independent living opportunities, in October 2013 and January 2014.
She added: “As the Independent Living Fund has now been abolished, as leader Liz will pursue an integrated health and social care system, properly funded, which will have support for independent living at its heart.”
But when asked to say whether Kendall had opposed closing ILF – in opposition to official Labour party policy – the spokeswoman failed to respond by 11am today (Friday).
Burnip was scathing about the comments of Burnham, Cooper and Kendall, calling them “utter bollocks”.
She said: “Since neither Burnham nor Cooper nor Kendall have shown any support in the long campaign waged to keep the ILF open, we find their sudden interest in the matter and supposed opposition to its closure somewhat of a surprise.
“We can only assume, however, that they have now reflected on our words when we told them that if they wanted disabled people’s votes in the general election they needed to support keeping the ILF open, and are now jumping on the leadership election bandwagon by suddenly finding this is something they have always secretly supported.”
Brian Hilton, an ILF-user and spokesman for GMCDP, added: “GMCDP appreciated the support of Jeremy Corbyn and the other Labour MPs who publicly and consistently spoke out about the closure of the ILF.
“It’s regrettable that Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall couldn’t have added their voice to those opposing the scrapping of the ILF whilst there was still time to save it.”
The fund helped nearly 17,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently, but it closed for good on 30 June.
The Department for Work and Pensions will transfer nine months’ worth of non-ring-fenced ILF funding through the Department for Communities and Local Government to councils in England, and to devolved governments in Wales and Scotland.
But the transition process has been littered with reports of delays in reassessments and cuts to individual care packages, as councils take full responsibility for funding the social care needs of former ILF-recipients.
The government has yet to say what funding will be passed to councils and devolved governments next year to support former ILF-users.