High Court rules closure of Independent Living Fund for disabled people is lawful

Over 18,000 people rely on the fund

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The Independent Online

A leading charity has warned that disabled people may struggle to live independently, after the High Court upheld a Government decision to close a fund which tens of thousands rely on.

Over 18,000 people will be affected when the Independent Living Fund (ILF) is stopped on 30 June next year, after the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) tried to challenge the measure.

Human rights lawyers argued that the closure of the ILF was legally flawed, and said the impact on users wasn't properly considered.

The disability charity Scope expressed dismay at the ruling and said: "The care system is on its knees."

The decision to go ahead with closure was taken by Mike Penning, the former minister for disabled people, after Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith was forced to defend his department against accusations of a failure to comply with its public sector equality duty (PSED) under the 2010 Equality Act.

Rejecting an application for judicial review, Mrs Justice Andrews offered her sympathy to those who will find her ruling a “great disappointment”, but explained there was no attempt by those advising the minister “to dilute or negate” the concerns of disabled people.

“The information provided to the minister identified in sufficiently unambiguous terms the inevitable and considerable adverse effect which the closure of the fund will have, particularly on those who, as a consequence, will lose the ability to live independently,” she added.

The Government argues that the vast majority of disabled people with care needs are adequately helped by the adult social care system and that it is transferring the ILF budget of £260 million to local authorities. It says this will to ensure disabled people get the targeted support they need to live independent lives.

But Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope, warned there is no guarantee that the money would be spent by the local authorities on the disabled people who had previously benefited from the ILF, as it is not ring-fenced.

"The care system is on its knees. Funding will be transferred to councils, but there will be no guarantee that the money will be used to support disabled people to live independently, or that former ILF users will receive the same levels of support, given the pressures on local authority finances," he said.

Wheelchair user John Kelly, 45, from Wimbledon, south-west London, who was at court today, said he was "gutted" by the decision.

He added: "It is bonkers. Even the judge said she was making the decision with sympathy. It is an attack by the Government on the ability of over 18,000 disabled people to be able to live independently in our society."