The possible closure of the Independent Living Fund would signal a return to institutional culture says Ellen Clifford from Disabled People Against Cuts, who also says that the indifference of big disability charities has contributed to the loss of a fundamental right.
The ILF was closed to new applicants in December 2010 without consultation or any vote in parliament. The consultation on the future of the fund that finally appeared in 2012 was flawed and inaccessible and became the subject of a legal challenge against the Department for Work and Pensions. Before Christmas, the government announced plans for permanent closure from April 2015.
Information obtained as a result of a judicial review in March of the decision to close the ILF has revealed a fuller picture. Government proposals set out in the consultation concentrated on integration of the ILF with adult social care. What became clear in the judicial review is that funding for local authorities to take over the functions of the ILF will be for one year only. There is no funding secured from April 2016 onwards. The focus for 2015 – 2016 will therefore be for local authorities to support existing ILF users to transition from their current levels of support to what is deemed to be affordable.
That means a loss of support, an end to choice and control and in some cases a return to the institutions. Whereas the ILF was needs-based, local authority support is dependent on available resources and local politics resulting in a postcode lottery of minimal support. Local authority-funded support maintains disabled people but it doesn’t enable anyone to have a life beyond being fed, watered and occasionally cleaned. The principles of personalisation are meaningless in a context of social care cutbacks where 15 minute personal care visits, microwave meals and incontinence pads are becoming the standard. The alternatives for people with high support needs are day centres and residential care as cited by a number of local authorities in their responses to the ILF consultation.
Given the central importance the ILF has played in enabling disabled people to enjoy their right to meaningful lives, why has its closure failed to provoke more of an outcry? A memo written by a civil servant from the DWP to the minister for disabled people on 7 November 2012 reads “Our decision to close the ILF to new users in 2010 without a formal consultation received remarkably little attention”.
It’s not DPAC’s position, but some cynics will say that it’s no surprise that the decision to close the ILF failed to spark an outcry from the large disability charities who have a vested interest because of the residential care services they run. But the lack of any challenge in 2010 paved the way for the government to frame the permanent closure of the fund as an issue of ‘equity’. They argue it is unreasonable to have a two tier system where some disabled people “through historical accident” have ended up with more support than others. Existing recipients have been presented as having more than their fair share. Another memo to the minister for disabled people dated 12 November 2012 says: “as you know, for some users ILF awards are very generous.”
The government has also been careful all along to present this as a reform rather than a cut. A memo dated 31 October 2012 says: “it is absolutely critical that any decision to close the fund is positioned and received as a reform, not a cut to support”. The ILF consultation presented the integration of the ILF with mainstream support as a reform. Whereas the majority of ILF users, their families and disabled people-led campaigns and organisations nevertheless opposed outright the government’s proposals, the larger disability organisations agreed with the need for reform and are recorded by government as having supported their plans for the future of the ILF, plans which involve the removal of £320 million of support from disabled people with the highest support needs.
Visit DPAC’s website to read a summary of the DWP documents or join the campaign to save the ILF.