Abolishing the Independent Living Fund
Today, Mike Penning, the minister “for” disabled people (their description, not mine) announced that the government is going ahead with the closure of the Independent Living Fund. You may remember that, in November, the Court of Appeal quashed their first attempt at this.
Remarkably, the government is basing this decision on an equality analysis that admits that “a large number of users will experience some reductions to the current funding they receive.” The government is going ahead with this cut, despite being forced to admit that thousands of disabled people with severe impairments face “the loss of a carer or personal assistant as currently funded by their ILF award.”
(Warning: long post.)
The Independent Living Fund helps disabled people with severe impairments to live independently, usually by paying the wages of a carer or personal assistant; thousands of disabled people have got or kept jobs because of their ILF support. The New Statesman website has an excellent article that shows why so many disabled people care about what happens to the Fund.
The ILF was created by the last Conservative government – like Disability Living Allowance which is also being abolished and replaced by something worse (Campaigners should remember that, when it comes to disability benefits, the Cameron government is harsher than Mrs Thatcher’s). Originally, it was run as a charitable trust and claimants didn’t have to get any co-funding to qualify for support. That Fund was closed to new entrants in 1993, when it was replaced by a non-departmental public body, also called the Independent Living Fund, which only supported people who got co-funding from their local authority. The two Funds were then merged in 2007, but a gradually shrinking group of claimants continues to be supported under the pre-1993 rules.
The government closed the ILF to new claims in 2010 as part of the first round of cuts, but it was left with a Fund still supporting 19,000 people at a cost then of £330 million a year. No-one was surprised when, at the end of 2012, the government announced plans to close down the Fund altogether, despite the fact that a consultation on the proposal had shown that recipients were strongly opposed:
A significant majority of individual responses were opposed to the proposal. There was widespread concern amongst users about the potential impacts of the transfer on their current care and support arrangements. Users said they had mixed experiences of the local authority care and support system and felt that local authorities were not always able to provide the services they felt they needed.
But then, at the end of last year, the government was stopped in its tracks by the Court of Appeal. In a unanimous judgement, the Court found that the Minister (then Esther McVey) hadn’t paid proper attention her duty under the Equality Act 2010 to look into the likely impact on disabled people. Lord Justice Elias gave voice to the concerns many of us have when we read equality impact assessments from this government:
I suspect also that part of the problem may be that these documents are for public consumption and give the impression that they have been drafted with at least half an eye to sending an up-beat message about the merits of the policy. This necessarily involves downplaying the adverse effects of the decision and exaggerating its benefits. As understandable as that may be from a political perspective, forensically it inevitably creates doubt whether the true impact of the decision has been properly appreciated. The Minister cannot then complain if the documents are taken at face value.
This judgement’s terms were important, because the Court ruled that one of the reasons for their decision was that the Minister hadn’t realised the “potentially very grave impact” of closure on users and that “independent living might well be put seriously in period for a large number of people”.
That is why today we have a decision based on a new equality analysis, which is unusually clear about the likely brutal impact of a government cut. The Court of Appeal quashed the 2012 closure decision, forcing the government back to square one, but Mike Penning said today that the ILF will close from 30 June 2015. People currently supported by the ILF will, from 2015, be supported through local authority social care provision, with £262m funding (announced in the Spending Review last year) transferred to local authorities in England and the devolved administrations elsewhere; there will be no ring-fencing to make sure they spend it on current recipients.
How is this decision being justified? Part of the government’s case is that it would be more efficient for all social care resources to go through a single channel. There may be something to that, but really, it is a very small part of the argument. The Court of Appeal’s judgement meant that the government still had the option of going ahead with their plans, but they would probably lose if they failed to acknowledge that the impact of the 2012 proposals would be harsh for ILF beneficiaries. This meant that the government’s options were:
- Give up on the cuts (no chance).
- Increase the funding for local authorities, so they could provide ILF-level support for everyone in a similar position (even less).
- Admit that ILF beneficiaries are probably going to have a tough time (what the hell).
In his statement today, Penning argued that keeping the ILF open would be a two-tier system that only benefitted a “relatively small proportion of disabled people”. This is less true than it seems to be – most of the people who rely on the ILF have very severe impairments and the main reason why there are people with a similar level of need who don’t get this level of support is that the government has decided to take it away from them.
And so we come to the admissions of brutality – you have look through the new assessment to find them, but not as carefully as you might imagine, or the government could have found itself back in front of the Court again.
The assessment says that the govt “fully recognises the importance of considering the impact of closure upon existing ILF users” but “also have a responsibility to consider the wider picture for all disabled people.” This semi- acknowledgement that existing ILF users are going to lose out is reinforced by the following paragraph:
It is increasingly difficult to justify operating a separate source of funding for one group of disabled people. Closing the ILF and transferring the funding to local authorities in England and to the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales would enable them to use all the funding available for adult social care to support disabled people in a more consistent, effective and equitable way, within a cohesive mainstream system.
Later on, the analysis explicitly says that as a result of transferring funding to local authorities without a ring-fence
it is probable that the majority of users will face some changes in the way their support is delivered and that a large number of users will experience some reductions to the current funding they receive.
For those who have been supported by the ILF since before claimants had to be co-funded by their local authority, the analysis confesses ignorance, but those who don’t meet their local authority’s funding criteria, “this could mean the loss of a carer or personal assistant as currently funded by their ILF award”.
Think about what these sentences mean (I’ve added the emphasis in both cases).
I’m grateful to the Court of Appeal. In the end, it looks as though they haven’t stopped the abolition of the ILF. But they have forced the government to be explicit about the impact of one of their cuts, and that is so rare that I’m inclined to take that as a tiny victory we can keep after this defeat.
ILF users, unfortunately, will have worse things on their minds.