The government’s decision to press on with its closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) could result in a lose-lose situation for those who accessed the fund as well as the local authorities that are taking over responsibility for the money:
When, in November last year, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Minister for Disabled People – then Esther McVey – had breached equality duties when making the decision to close the ILF in December 2012 and quashed the High Court’s decision that the closure was lawful, many people thought that it would send the government back to the drawing board on its plans. Not so, apparently.
Last week, the government announced – quietly – that it was pressing on with its plans to close the ILF in June 2015. In a written statement to Parliament, current Minister for Disabled People, Mike Penning, said that since the Court of Appeal’s ruling, a new equality analysis had been undertaken and further advice provided to enable him to make a new decision. And – surprise, surprise – that decision is the same as the one made by McVey.
The ILF provides support to more than 19,000 people with severe disabilities to enable them to live independent and fulfilling lives. It was closed to new entrants in 2010 and it was decided in December 2012 that it would be abolished by March 2015. The funding from the ILF – £320 million – will be transferred to local authorities to administer.
The main concern about the ILF money going to local authorities is that it isn’t ring fenced. This means that local authorities can use the money as they see fit. Given the swingeing funding cuts they are experiencing, ILF users are justifiably concerned that it won’t go to providing the services they had under the ILF.
In a frankly odd statement, Penning acknowledged the concerns among ILF users of the potential impact of its closure on their ability to exercise choice and control over how their support is managed and to live independently, pursue educational and employment opportunities, and participate in social activities.
But then he added: “I do not believe that continuing a separate system of support, operating through a discretionary trust and outside the statutory mainstream adult social care system, is the right approach.”
So in essence that is: ‘I know you’re all concerned about how this closure will affect you, but we’re going to do it anyway.’
Penning’s statement did little, if anything, to assuage those fears, which would make me worry even more about what is going to happen.
A few thoughts here: if the Court of Appeal ruled that equality duties were breached the first time round, making the closure of the ILF unlawful, what has changed since then? What was in the new equality analysis that ensures that it is lawful? Surely the government isn’t just ignoring the Court of Appeal and carrying on regardless?
And if, as seems likely, they do carry on regardless, what will it mean for those who benefit from the fund?
It seems likely to me that another postcode lottery will be created with this move; those local authorities that have had to make fewer cuts will be in a better position to provide the services people enjoyed thanks to the ILF.
This decision seems to go against the government’s commitment to the personalisation agenda, which is all about giving service users more choice and control – that phrase again – over the services they use, with an emphasis on helping them to live independently wherever possible.
If local authorities do use the money for other aspects of social care, it could have a seriously detrimental impact on the lives of those 19,000 people who used the ILF. Without the services they are able to access through the ILF – which they may well not get from the local authority – it is possible that they could end up struggling to live independently, which could result in a move back to residential care, for example.
Should that be the case, I only see it resulting in a lose-lose situation. Residential care places are often expensive – more than it would cost for someone to remain living independently. But, more importantly, the people who are affected will have a poorer quality of life and find it more difficult to play an active role in their community.
Given the advances made in general for services and inclusion of people with disabilities in recent years, I feel that the closure of the ILF is a backwards step. I hope I’m wrong.