The Welsh government has refused pleas to set up a replacement for the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in Wales, but it has protected the budgets of ILF-users for at least another nine months.
The Welsh government had been consulting on the future care and support arrangements for ILF-users, following last year’s decision by the UK government to close the fund for good on 30 June.
From July, the UK government will pass the non-ring-fenced funding previously allocated to ILF – a government-resourced trust which helps about 17,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently – to English local authorities and the Welsh and Scottish governments.
The Scottish government announced last year that it would set up its own ILF, for both existing and new users in Scotland, using the UK government’s funding and an additional £5.5 million of its own money.
But the Welsh government has opted instead to transfer the Westminster funding and responsibility to local authorities, but with conditions attached on how the money should be spent.
It will protect the budgets of existing ILF-users for the first nine months, with funding for the following 12 months dependant on funding allocated in the next UK government’s spending round.
The Welsh government had offered three other options in its consultation: to set up a Welsh successor to the ILF; to create a national independent living scheme; and to transfer funding and responsibility to local authorities, in the same non-ring-fenced way that is happening in England.
A national independent living scheme would allow Welsh councils to ask for funding towards some of the cost of more expensive packages of independent living support.
Mark Drakeford, the Welsh minister for health and social services, said he would consider setting up a Welsh ILF if the UK government provided the necessary funding as part of the Welsh government’s long-term budget.
He said: “I am fully aware of the ongoing anxiety and concerns experienced by current ILF recipients as a result of the announcement of the closure.
“The grant scheme I have announced today will ensure that current levels of funding are maintained whilst keeping open the possibility of a permanent body to operate ILF in Wales, should conditions permit.”
But Disability Wales said the announcement was a missed opportunity.
It believes that many of the responses to the consultation from ILF-users, other disabled people and disabled people’s organisations and carers, “firmly opposed the transfer of responsibility for ILF to local authorities”.
And it said there was “strong support” for setting up a national independent living scheme for Wales, which it believed would help all disabled people – and not just ILF-users – to have control over their lives and their support.
As of 30 January 2015, there were 1,648 ILF recipients in Wales, receiving an average of about £335 a week.
Disability Wales welcomed Drakeford’s pledge to keep open the possibility of a Welsh ILF in the future, and said the option he had chosen would “afford more protection” to ILF recipients than simply handing the funds over to local authorities with no conditions attached.
But it said that setting up a national independent living scheme was the only option that matched the Welsh government’s aspirations to “transform social services” through its Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act, which became law in May 2014.
The act aims to promote independence and give service-users a stronger voice and more control over their services.
A Disability Wales spokeswoman added: “We now look forward to on-going engagement with Welsh government, local authorities and other stakeholders with a view to establishing a national independent living scheme before the current [ILF] grant ends on 31 March 2017.”