The Independent Living Fund (ILF) was originally set up in 1988 as a national resource to fund support for disabled people with high support needs, enabling them to live in the community rather than move into residential care.
Through support from the ILF disabled people are active in society:
• In education and employment
• As volunteers and Trustees
• As employers, often of sizeable teams of Personal Assistants
• As carers for family and friends
Why the closure of the ILF is so important
Currently 17,500 disabled people with the highest levels of need receive essential support through the ILF enabling them to enjoy fulfilling lives and contribute to their communities. The closure of the Fund will have a devastating impact on the lives of these individuals and their families. It also has a much wider significance that affects all of us because at the heart of this issue is the fundamental question of disabled people’s place in society : do we want a society that keeps its disabled citizens out of sight, prisoners in their own homes or locked away in institutions, surviving not living or do we want a society that enables disabled people to participate, contribute and enjoy the opportunities, choice and control that non disabled people take for granted?
Background to the proposed closure
The ILF model was ground-breaking, giving disabled people funds with which to directly buy their own support. As a consequence of the popularity of the Fund eligibility was tightened over the years. Although developments in the delivery of local authority administered care and support were informed by the success of the ILF , mainstream care and support has never been able to replicate the higher satisfaction rates, lighter touch monitoring or considerably lower overheads that the ILF operates with .
A review in 2007 carried out by Melanie Henwood and Bob Hudson recommended expansion of the ILF to widen eligibility. It also pointed to the possibility that the development of Personal Budgets would remove the need for the ILF to operate in the long term on the assumption personal budgets would be able to deliver the same levels of choice and control as the ILF.
In December 2010 the Government announced the closure of the ILF to new applicants, and in December 2012 following a consultation on the future of the Fund that disabled people claim was inaccessible and carried out in bad faith, it was announced that the Fund would be closed permanently from April 2015. The Government claimed that Local Authorities could meet the same outcomes as the ILF and proposed transfer for existing ILF recipients to their Local Authorities.
A group of ILF users successfully challenged the decision to close the fund and The Court of Appeal ruled in November 2013 that the closure decision had breached the public sector equality duty because the Minister had not been given adequate information to be able to properly assess the practical effect of closure on the particular needs of ILF users and their ability to live independently. The Court of Appeal judges were unanimous in their view that the closure of the fund would have an ‘inevitable and considerable adverse effect which the closure of the fund will have, particularly on those who will as a consequence lose the ability to live independently. ”
However, on 6th March 2014 the Minister for Disabled People announced his intention to press ahead with the closure of the Independent Living Fund on 30 June 2015. A fresh legal challenge by ILF recipients was issued last week on the same basis as the first that once again the Minister had not discharged the public sector equality duty because he did not have adequate information to be able to properly understand what the impact of closure would be on the people affected.
The impact of closure
Under the Government’s proposals responsibility for meeting the full social care needs of the ILF recipients will pass to local authorities. Transition funding to accompany these new responsibilities has only been secured for 2015-2016. There is no currently no guarantee for any further funding.
Transition funding will not be ring fenced for social care once it is transferred to local authorities, and so even within 2015-2016 there will be no guarantee that this money will be spent on supporting disabled people to live independently rather than absorbed into the broader council budget.
The emphasis for 2015-2016 will on supporting ILF users to transition onto more limited social care packages. This could mean having to lower the rate of pay and hours they employ Personal Assistants and risk losing trained and experienced staff, having to choose between spending days warehoused in a day centre or trapped and isolated at home without support to eat, drink or use the toilet for hours at a time, or being forced into residential care against their wishes.
ILF recipients will only be eligible for continued social care support from their local authority if they meet the FACs criteria. The new Government’s intention to set the new national eligibility threshold at ‘substantial’ means that many simply will not receive any replacement support from their local authority once the ILF closes.