The government’s decision to scrap the Independent Living Fund (ILF) will be a “retrogressive step” in terms of helping people with disabilities to live independently, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The EHRC is intervening in a High Court Judicial Review of the government’s decision to close the ILF. The closure will mean that almost 20,000 people with severe disabilities risk losing essential funding support for their independence through this decision. The Commission will submit that this is a step that breaches the UK’s international commitments to support disabled people.
People with disabilities use the money they receive from the ILF to live independently and to participate in society as workers, in education and in pursuing their interests. In future they will be assessed under different criteria, which in many cases will result in significantly reduced support.
The current case, Pepper and Aspinall v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, follows a successful appeal against the move last year, in which the EHRC also intervened. Then, the Court ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) must reconsider its earlier decision to shut the ILF.
Following that judgment in March, the DWP announced a new decision to close the ILF. It has been closed to new applicants since 2010 and funding for existing users will cease next year, if the closure goes ahead.
In its submission, the EHRC said that the DWP’s further decision is again inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The DWP is also bound by the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) to consider whether a decision adversely impacts on disabled people and to make sure ministers have full information on the potential impacts.
The Commission will submit that the UNCRPD is essential to the proper understanding of the PSED, and should be taken into account in determining whether the DWP has complied with its responsibilities. Before deciding to close the ILF, the Minister should have considered whether the decision would advance the right for disabled people to live independently. No action should be taken that would diminish disabled people’s rights to independent living unless these rights impose “a truly disproportionate burden” on the state.
Rebecca Hilsenrath, the EHRC’s chief legal officer, said: “Fairness, dignity and respect are values we all share. Even if local authorities are given money in compensation, the closure of the Independent Living Fund will result in loss of dignity and independence for many ILF recipients.
“When the closure of the Fund was considered previously, the Court of Appeal found that insufficient consideration had been given to the consequences, which are potentially very grave for some recipients. The extent of the impact is still unclear, but if the closure goes ahead it will be a regressive step in terms of the right of disabled people to live independently.”