The minister for disabled people has failed six times to explain which minister and government department campaigners should approach to lobby about the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF).
Justin Tomlinson was asked by the disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell to tell disabled people which minister had responsibility for ILF and “over-arching decision-making power” on the fallout from the fund’s closure.
Tomlinson and two other ministers were giving evidence to the Equality Act 2010 and disability committee, which is conducting an inquiry for the House of Lords into the impact of the act on disabled people.
Tomlinson (pictured, at the hearing) appeared to accept her suggestion that one department ought to have “ultimate responsibility” but he then told Baroness Campbell that it “depends on which angle you come from” if someone wanted to know which minister was responsible for the issue.
He said the Department for Communities and Local Government was responsible for the local authorities that deliver social care; the Department of Health was responsible for policy relating to the Care Act 2014; his department, work and pensions, was responsible for former ILF-users and for keeping “a watching brief” and meeting with stakeholders; while the Treasury decided “ongoing funding”.
ILF was funded by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), 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.
In her fourth attempt to secure an answer to her question, Baroness Campbell said: “Who do disabled people go to when they want to collaborate and to help with the reforms in this area?
“Do you not think that this leaves disabled people confused and very much torn between departments?”
In her fifth attempt to seek clarity, Baroness Campbell told Tomlinson: “We all know the UN committee has come over here because it was brought to their attention that the ILF and the [closure] decision was a possible contravention of article 19 [of the UN disability convention].
“Obviously it is an incredibly important issue, so who is the minister responsible who makes the final decision on this?”
Tomlinson said ministers “strongly contest the allegations that were made to the UN”, but he said the UN committee’s ongoing work was confidential.
And he claimed that there were “stronger protections” for former ILF-users since the closure than there had been under the fund, which had been “discretionary”, and he said that “local provision was far better to match those local needs”.
Two months ago, Disability News Service reported how more than a quarter of disabled people who previously received ILF support in one local authority area had had their social care packages cut by at least half since it closed.
Baroness Campbell pushed Tomlinson for a sixth time, and asked: “Who would you advise the disability lobby to go to when they want to negotiate on the ILF?
“Which minister, because it’s jolly well not fair to ask them to go to all four?”
Tomlinson then repeated his explanation of the different roles played by the four departments.
When she asked him if he was “monitoring” the ILF closure situation, he replied: “Very much.”
Baroness Campbell asked the minister for women and equalities, Nicky Morgan – who is also the education secretary – what role the Government Equalities Office had played in the decision to close ILF.
And she asked whether more “proactive” involvement by the GEO could have prevented the policy failures that led to the government losing the first judicial review of the closure decision in November 2013.
Morgan promised to find out whether any GEO officials were involved in giving advice to DWP.
But Tomlinson said DWP did not believe that greater involvement by GEO would have had an impact on the decision to close ILF.