Nobody with even the slightest interest in current affairs could have missed this week’s uproar surrounding the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), effective from today.  The £320m fund, organised by central government, has been paying out an average of £300 a week to approximately 18,000 disabled people.  These payments have mostly been used to help fund care workers to assist in the carrying out of everyday activities, such as washing and dressing.  For the next nine months, previous users of the Fund will have to make applications for financial assistance to their local councils (to whom the budget for the ILF has been temporarily transferred.)  After that, no further assistance from either central or local government is guaranteed.

The Government’s Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) shows that nearly 1,000 people with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) will be affected by the closure.  Aspire knows from our analysis of the care provision for people with SCI that 14% of their care hours are funded through ILF. 

Following the General Election result, Rosa Davies wrote a moving piece for the Guardian in which she asked the following question: “how much more disabled is this government going to make us?”   Such a question is rooted in the Social Model of Disability, a model which Aspire also promotes.  Its fundamental position is this:  people are “disabled” by the way society is organised.  For example, an individual with SCI might not be able to walk, but they would be disabled by the failure of their workplace to install a ramp allowing them access to the building.

Government cuts create extra barriers for disabled people.  As Ms Davies puts it:

“Money is access. It makes the circle labelled “Things I could do” bigger and the one tagged “Things I can’t do” smaller, and that second circle is so big to begin with.”

The Minister for Disabled People has insisted that the closure of the ILF does not represent a “cut”.  However, there are three replies one might make to this.  Firstly, the only guarantee is that ILF funding will be transferred to local authorities for nine months.  After that, funding could stop in its entirety.   Secondly, the Government has said that only £262m of funding will be transferred to local authorities, which is clearly less than the current £300m.    Thirdly, Freedom of Information requests by the BBC and Disability Rights UK have established that a third of local authorities are not planning to ring-fence the funding they receive to replace the ILF.   This seems very likely to lead to a drop in funding for disabled people in regions covered by these authorities.  Indeed, the Government’s own EIA acknowledges that “a large number of users will experience some reductions to the current funding they receive” although it is also careful to highlight that this “will not necessarily lead to reduced equality of opportunity for users.” 

What could be the day-to-day impact of a cut be for people with SCI?  A real fear – again acknowledged by the EIA – is that many disabled people will be forced to enter residential care, or as one user quoted in the assessment articulated “left to rot in a home.”  The EIA states it is “simply not possible to quantify” whether this is a likely consequence.  However, with twenty-four hour care costing £1700 a week, compared to the £850 a week cost of keeping someone in a local authority care home, these fears do not seem unfounded.  If they are not, the impact could be devastating.   Quite apart from the loss of independence and access to community activities that residential care entails, Aspire research shows it has a horrific impact on the mental and physical health of those with SCI.  And there is also a wider question as to whether disabled people returning to live in residential care, as they did before campaigns for funds like the ILF were successful, represents a regression in equal opportunities.  How can it be right that your very freedom of movement is restricted just because of a lack of funds?  Is this really the best that society can do?

The EIA also acknowledged that the ILF has “undoubtedly played a significant role in supporting its users…to access educational and employment opportunities and to participate actively in their communities.”  The link with employment is particularly poignant, especially given the DWP’s current message to employers to become “disability confident.”  Last week’s blog described how important quality care provision was to people with SCI finding and retaining work.   If the closure of the ILF results in people having to leave employment, this doesn’t seem very “disability confident.”

Only time will tell what the impact of the closure will be.  However, if the above indications turn out to be correct, Aspire will echo Ms Davies’ conclusion that in closing the ILF, the Government has created extra barriers for disabled people.  As one researcher of disability put it “It’s putting people in a box marked “pathetic and hopeless”; people to be looked after.  [Disabled people] want to be in the world and the community."