The minister for social care has asked officials in his department to monitor “closely” the impact of the decision to scrap the Independent Living Fund, he has told Disability News Service (DNS).
Last week, both the Department of Health (DH) and the Department for Communities and Local Government refused to say whether they were monitoring the impact of the fund’s closure on disabled people.
But after being questioned by DNS during a Conservative party conference fringe meeting, Alistair Burt (pictured), a former minister for disabled people in the 1990s, said: “I have indeed asked for exactly what you have said, to ask what the impact has been.”
He told this week’s meeting, hosted by the Care and Support Alliance: “It is too early for us. Local authorities have now to arrange their own packages and make their own assessments.
“We put the money into local authorities but they have to make their own judgements and assessments about what is right.
“I am waiting to see what those assessments will be, because it is right we try and find out what is happening, and we are waiting to see what that will be.”
Afterwards, he told DNS: “I am very interested in how this transfer to local authorities works in practice.
“I have asked officials to monitor it closely and I am awaiting to hear what the exact impact is. It matters to the Department of Health, as I am sure it does to local authorities. But we need some information to work on.”
DNS had told the minister of the evidence of “shocking” cuts to the support packages of many former ILF-users, including in Waltham Forest, where 16 of 60 former ILF-users face cuts of more than half to their support packages.
ILF was funded by the Department for Work and Pensions 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.
Burt admitted to the meeting that social care faced “extraordinary challenges”, but he said he was “very limited” in what he could say about its future funding because of the government’s spending review, due to report later this autumn.
He said: “The spending review is going on, there is nothing I can say before that that can have any bearing on the issue.”
But he said he was “more than aware of the financial pressures”, including the impact of the chancellor’s new “living wage”, on local authorities trying to fund social care.
He said: “I am very conscious of that; so is the secretary of state [Jeremy Hunt]; so I am sure is the spending review.”
And he said there was a “commitment in government to recognise the challenges in social care”.
He added: “If it has been a Cinderella service in the past, it is not now. It has got a very high priority in the NHS.”
Vicky McDermott, chair of the Care and Support Alliance and chief executive of Papworth Trust, and herself a disabled person, told the meeting that she believed that it was now time to call the situation facing social care “a crisis”, with the system “already on its knees” and “at breaking point”.
She said there was a “real risk” of the coalition’s Care Act “becoming an embarrassment rather than the beacon it ought to be”.
She said: “I absolutely applaud the Care Act, the best piece of social care legislation that has happened, probably ever.
“Ultimately, as a party you should be able to shout about that, you should be really proud, but right now it is not delivering on the promises it has made.”
And Izzi Seccombe, the Conservative leader of Warwickshire county council and chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, told the meeting that the situation facing adult social care was “stark”, with a funding gap set to grow by more than £700 million a year.
She said local authorities continued to support the reforms brought in by the Care Act, but did not want to see them implemented unless they were “affordable”.
She said: “If the government cannot fund both the system and the reforms then the absolute priority must go to maintaining the stability of the system itself.”