moneyTrade union Unite has heavily criticised the government for its plans to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in June 2015.

In a written statement to Parliament, Minister for Disabled People Mike Penning said the government was pressing on with its plans to close the ILF on June 30, 2015 and transfer the money and responsibilities for meeting eligible care needs on to local authorities.

This is despite a ruling last November by the Court of Appeal that the Minister for Disabled People – then Esther McVey – had breached equality duties when making the decision in December 2012 to close the ILF. The Court of Appeal quashed the decision of the High Court that the closure was lawful.

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, which totals £320 million, will be transferred to local authorities to administer, but will not be ring-fenced, leading to fears that it could be used for other areas of social care.

Since the Court of Appeal’s ruling, Penning said that a new equality analysis has been undertaken and further advice provided to enable him to make a new decision.

“It is clear to me, from considering all of the evidence, that there is considerable concern among Independent Living Fund users, about the potential impact of closing the fund on their independence and on their ability to exercise choice and control over how their care and support is managed,” Penning said. “I also recognise that many users believe that closing the Independent Living Fund will affect their ability to continue to live independently in their own homes, to pursue educational and employment opportunities, and to participate in social activities.

“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. The key features that have contributed to the Independent Living Fund’s success, in particular, the choice and control it has given disabled people over how their care and support is managed, are now provided, or are very soon to be provided, within the mainstream system.”

“Catastrophic” decision

However, Unite, the country’s largest union, described the government’s decision as “catastrophic” and said it had no confidence that local government, already suffering swingeing funding cuts, could provide the same standard of care to the disabled as the ILF presently allows. 

Unite’s national officer for equalities, Siobhan Endean, said: “Unite believes that the closure of the ILF will have a catastrophic impact on disabled people and their right to live independent and fulfilling lives. 

“The government has shown a complete disregard for disabled people and the Court of Appeal decision. 

“The right to independent living is now enshrined as one of the principles in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. 

“The government had previously tried to close the ILF to new applicants and intended to transfer responsibility to local authorities – where massive cuts have been made and will continue to be made. The people, who benefit from the ILF, will now face a local government postcode lottery. 

“The government’s plans to close the ILF were challenged in a judicial review by a group of disabled people in November 2013 who won a final ruling that prevented the closure. The government had failed to comply with the equality duty – this was a rare victory entirely due to disabled people fighting back. 

“Ministers decided not to appeal, but have instead carried out a new equality impact assessment to justify the closure. Many other changes to benefits and local authority services are also undermining independent living.”