Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Disabled people challenge government over closure of the Independent Living Fund

Last week, five disabled people who receive support from the Independent Living Fund went to the High Court to challenge the government’s decision to close the Fund.  Their challenge relates to the government's consultation last year on the closure of the Fund – and there does seem to be a yawning gap between the responses to that consultation and the government’s conclusions. In particular, it would appear that the DWP’s response to the consultation mis-represented the submissions made by local authorities.

The DWP stated that “Most local authorities and their representative bodies expressed strong support for the proposal in principle”.  Yet, looking through those submissions – from both individual authorities and from organisations such as the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services – it is hard to see much evidence of ‘strong support’.

Even those authorities that said they did support the principle of closure usually attached qualifications to this support. Indeed, the government acknowledged, in response to a Freedom of Information request about the proportion of responses supporting the proposal, that: “The overwhelming majority of respondents chose to provide longer responses with many expressing mixed feelings about the proposals or laying out conditions on which they would support it.” 

Most local authorities’ responses (and those of their representative bodies) made the assumption that the closure was going to happen anyway.  Many responses said not enough information had been provided or details of how the transfer would work. Some referred to the advantages of there only being one system for allocating support but all referred to potential problems of closing the ILF, primarily the likely reduction in funding available to individuals. 

Most focused their attention on what mitigating action could be taken, with the primary suggestion being “The obvious mitigation is compensatory growth in the government support for adult social care services” (Association of Directors of Adult Social Services/Local Government Association).  Of course the reverse is happening – by 2015 social care in England will be have been cut by £8billion – a real term cut of about a third of the total budget for social care

Disabled People Against the Cuts have reported that, during the two day hearing last week, further information emerged from the DWP which indicates that the transitional funding to local authorities – which is not ring-fenced but which could be used to support current ILF users – will be limited to one year.

As I pointed out in my last blog about this issue, the people who are currently funded by the ILF are those who in previous generations would have been consigned to institutions.  Is this what will happen again – as the National Association of Financial Assessment Officers (the people who carry out the means-test to determine whether disabled and older people should be charged for their care) told the government “some councils may determine that residential care would be a less expensive option than a high cost home care package. 

Guardian columnist, Zoe Williams, writing about the court case last week, asked perhaps the most pertinent question – “What's your plan for these people whose lives we apparently can't afford?”