Campaigners have handed the government a letter signed by hundreds of user-led organisations and disabled activists, in an effort to save the Independent Living Fund (ILF).
The letter, written by the campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), warns that scrapping ILF would “wreck disabled people’s lives” and push them into residential institutions rather than allowing them to live independently in the community.
Such a move, it says, would breach the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and cost the government hundreds of millions of pounds a year in extra residential care and NHS costs.
Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, has decided that ILF – the government-funded trust which helps 21,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently – will remain closed permanently to new applicants, while only guaranteeing that the packages of current users will be protected until 2015.
She has also suggested that she wants to scrap ILF completely after the next election, saying that continuing to run it is “financially unsustainable”.
The government is set to publish a social care white paper this spring, alongside a consultation on how to support current ILF-users.
DPAC’s letter has been signed by hundreds of ILF-users, other disabled people and disabled people’s organisations, including many of the country’s leading disabled activists, such as John Evans, Baroness [Jane] Campbell, Liz Carr, Jaspal Dhani and Kevin Caulfield.
They believe ILF saves the state an average of nearly £38,000 per person per year in extra costs of providing residential care, while scrapping ILF would also lose the government hundreds of millions of pounds of tax revenue, both from disabled people no longer able to work and their personal assistants (PAs).
Members of DPAC were outside Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) offices in Whitehall this week to deliver the letter, and were joined by other activists including Jamie Bolling, executive director of the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL).
Only four days previously, Bolling had been at the European Parliament with ENIL to tell MEPs about the impact austerity measures were having on disabled people’s right to independent living.
She said cuts to disabled people’s support were happening across Europe, as was a lack of consultation on proposed cuts.
Bolling praised DPAC for “doing good work in mobilising people with disabilities against the cuts”, and added: “We are going to need it, and in other countries as well.”
Mick Hutchins, public affairs officer for the Spinal Injuries Association, an ILF-user himself, said closing the fund could force many disabled people back into residential homes.
He said: “Without ILF, I would not be able to work.” And he said he would also need to make at least one PA redundant if he lost his ILF. “That’s a potential 21,000 people losing their jobs.”
Anne Pridmore, director of Being the Boss, and another ILF-user who protested outside DWP, said closing the fund would see many disabled people “trapped in their own homes”, and added: “As an older person, I will be put in a residential care home along with a lot of others who are over 65.
“It is horrifying. If it comes to that I will top myself because I cannot go in a residential home.”
She said that if she lost her ILF money, six people who work for her as PAs would lose their jobs.
Another ILF-user, Mojgan Safa, said: “Disabled people did a lot of work to get to this stage. Now [the government] want to go backwards.”
She promised further protests if the government failed to listen to disabled people.
Another disabled protester, Nick Wimborne, a member of Action Disability Kensington and Chelsea, said: “Benefits have got to be maintained to allow its recipients to maintain their lifestyle and their way of life.
“I think that disabled people have not been given a very loud voice in parliament and I really think it is a crime.”
A DWP spokesman said: “No decisions have been made about the future of the ILF and we are committed to a consultation about support for current users alongside the forthcoming social care white paper.
“It is only in the context of the wider reforms to the care and support system that we can properly consider how ILF users can be best supported in the future.”
14 February 2012