On Wednesday a group of five disabled people lost a judicial review in the High Court over the Government's plan to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF), a resource which enables them to live independent lives.
The group have since decided to appeal this decision.
Independent living enables disabled people with high support needs to be in control of when and how they receive assistance with everyday tasks. It’s about choosing when you get up, go to the toilet, eat a meal, get dressed, go out etc. Many of us would argue that these are basic human rights which non-disabled people tend to take for granted. But when a person is unable to perform such tasks for themselves, a cost gets attached to them and people’s rights get forgotten.
Furthermore, this cut is nothing to do with the now-familiar rhetoric of scroungers and cheats. It is directly aimed at around 19,000 disabled people with the highest support needs. Just off the top of my head, we users of the ILF include actors, TV presenters, PhD students, chief executives, consultants, trainers, a life peer and at least two stand-up comedians. Many of us have pushed the boundaries for disability rights in our communities and/or respective fields of work. I believe our society as a whole will be the poorer if we have to move into residential institutions, as many of us fear will happen, because funding is no longer available for us to live independently in the community.
The judicial review focused on the way in which the consultation over the closure was carried out. Even though I rely on the ILF myself, I did not respond to the consultation. I have to confess that, in recent years I have become disillusioned with the whole process of Governments consulting with the public, as I can no longer see how my individual contribution makes any difference. Therefore I was interested to read in the internal government papers released during the high court case that:
As we expected with the current challenges facing the care and support system, the majority of ILF users are opposed to closure of the fund, with many doing so on the basis that there could be no guarantee that their current level of funding would be protected in the future.
This begs the question: what was the point of asking users for their opinions in the first place if they had already predicted what the majority response would be and decided to ignore it? They even go on to claim that they have “listened” to users. This is the kind of behaviour that is causing people like me to lose faith in our political system.
Furthermore the papers emphasise focusing on “the key message that this is about reform, not cuts”. This is despite the fact that ILF funding will only be transferred to local authorities for one year after its closure, after which time it will disappear altogether. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a cut to me!
The so-called reform is meant to streamline our piecemeal social care system by transferring responsibilities solely to local authorities. Whilst there’s no doubt that the system needs simplification, local authorities are already under huge financial pressures and, as a result are cutting people’s support packages left, right and centre. We users of the ILF are already being told that, when we are reassessed by our local authorities, we probably won’t get the same level of support. Some local authorities have even considered forcing people with the highest support needs into residential homes in order to save money.
Furthermore the Government intends to introduce national eligibility standards for social care by 2015, which will end the postcode lottery and enable people to move to different areas and take their support packages with them. At the moment, it is difficult to see the already cash-strapped local authorities being able to co-ordinate and deliver this joined-up approach. But an organisation like the ILF, which already assesses and supports disabled people across the country on an equitable basis, would be well-placed to oversee this bold, new initiative, were it to be saved.
It also does not make financial sense to transfer ILF funding to local authorities. Disabled People Against Cuts carried out a survey and found that two councils spent over 20 per cent of the total adult social care budget on overheads. The lowest spending on overheads by a local authority was 10 per cent. In comparison, the overhead costs of the ILF are only two per cent of their total budget.
The papers released during the judicial review reveal that the Government was banking on the closure of the ILF receiving very little attention from the public and mainstream media because it only affects relatively few people. They are calculating on the British public not caring enough about our human rights. I hope they have miscalculated.