The Department for Work and Pensions will be in the high court again next week on 22nd and 23rd October, this time to face a second legal challenge brought by disabled people over their decision to close the Independent Living Fund.
The Independent Living Fund (ILF) was set up in 1988 to provide support to disabled people with the highest support needs to live in the community. Since then it has enabled thousands of disabled people to live full and meaningful lives, able to contribute to society and participate through education, employment, volunteering and taking on caring roles within their own families. ILF recipients employ teams of Personal Assistants thereby contributing to their local economies. This is not, as the DWP has suggested, disabled people being over-privileged. This is providing disabled people with opportunities to live a more ordinary life in the face of the multiple barriers and discrimination they face.
In November 2013 the Court of Appeal quashed a previous government decision to close the Fund. 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” (ref)
In March 2014 the then Minister for Disabled People announced a new decision to close the ILF in June 2015 (ref)
Solicitors for the disabled claimants will be arguing that the government failed to consider any new information or to discharge their equality duties.Without the ILF and in the context of the crisis in social care disabled people will be entirely reliant on already over-stretched local authorities to meet their support needs (ref) (ref)
The amount that the government has committed to devolve to local authorities to help them meet their new responsibilities is short of the amount currently spent by the ILF on direct support for disabled people. It also does not take account of all those disabled people who would have been eligible for support from the ILF before it was closed to new applicants in 2010. Since then disabled people have ended up trapped in their homes without basic needs such as washing or feeding being met.
I have a disability due to a spinal injury 36 years ago, resulting in me being completely paralysed from my neck down. I live alone in my own home in Bottesford, Scunthorpe with the help of my live- in Personal Assistants. I live independently with funding from the I.l.F. Direct Payments and my DLA contribution.
I have had funding from the I.L.F. since 1994 and I have been greatly disturbed and worried about the Government’s decision to stop the I.L.F. funding in 2015. I took part in the consultation explaining in great detail my concerns for myself and other fund users when it is handed over to the local authority.
With financial assistance from the I.L.F. I have had a level of independence which has enabled me to live independently and more importantly be in control of my care package and live my life. I have not asked my local authority for any assistance with my care and I have managed my finances paying my staff and tax contributions with the aid of my personal assistant. Due to my I.L.F. funding my life has been greatly enriched and I have been able to fully integrate within my community. When the I.L.F. funding is withdrawn and goes to my local authority there are no guarantees of funding cuts or that I can continue with my present independent lifestyle, with the aid of my personal assistants.
This decision made by the government is going to have a tremendous impact on the thousands of disabled people who rely on this funding. They cannot begin to understand what it is like to build and fulfil your life with this funding, to be told it was going to be withdrawn and no one can give guarantees that it will continue with their local authority continuing with the funding.
I have contacted my local M.P. Nic Dakin who has already participated in a debate in Parliament on this important subject, highlighting my own personal circumstances as an example of this life changing decision and he is an active contributor to our cause.
The closure of the ILF is such a major concern to disabled people that over the Summer they occupied the grounds of Westminster Abbey in order to try to draw attention to the seriousness of the issue. Over 300 police turned up for a group of around 70 wheelchair users and supporters (ref)
The issue has also attracted international attention. The UK is currently under investigation for grave and systematic violations of the rights of disabled people (5), while disabled campaigners in countries as far away as Canada have protested outside their British embassy.
On Wednesday 22nd October 2014 from 12.30pm ILF recipients and supporters including Disabled People Against Cuts, Inclusion London, the National Anti Bedroom Tax and Benefit Justice campaign, Winvisible and Taxpayers Against Poverty will be gathering for a vigil outside the high court to show solidarity with the disabled claimants taking the case.