While Labour profess to support fully the right to live independently for disabled people we are now in a situation following plans to close the Independent Living Fund where England is left as the only UK country which will not have it’s own form of a fund to continue to support the additional funding requirements of those who have high support needs.
For any political party to say they want disabled people to have the same rights, choices and chances as any other citizen rings hollow without a commitment to keep in place even if on a temporary basis the funding necessary for this to happen.
The Labour Party’s official response to many people who have contacted them with regard to supporting keeping the ILF open has outlined a number of points which we would like to address.
1) The “inconsistencies” in delivery which you mention were the result of unequal take up between different local authorities and was symptomatic of the failings of local authority administered social care support. As a national model of service delivery the ILF is far more successful and cost effective than local authority administered social care. The latest ILF annual report records a user satisfaction rating of 97%. Overheads for the ILF come in at just 2 % of the budget in comparison with an average of 16% for local authorities. It is in fact a model of service delivery that should be built upon rather than shut down. We understand that provisions in the Care Act are aimed at reducing inconsistencies between local authorities, nevertheless the inconsistencies you cite as a problem of the ILF are many times worse in the current system upon which ILF users will now be solely reliant as a result of the closure.
2) You also state that ‘ we understand the Fund is already being wound down, and staff numbers are already reducing’. This maybe correct but it is equally the case that there is very little being done in terms of winding down the ILF that could not very quickly be undone, even after actual closure of the ILF. This information has been provided by ILF staff and a former strategic director at ILF and has been shared with Labour’s shadow DWP team by PCS union and others. This means that if a Labour government were to be elected in May 2015 it will very much be Labour’s decision to go ahead with closure in June.
3) In turn that brings us onto the fact that should Labour be elected to government next May it is they who will be in power and responsible for the UK’s failure to protect disabled people’s human rights under the UNCRPD, and it is they who will be deemed responsible for the continuing grave and systematic violation of those rights when the UN investigation into the UK takes place after the election. We believe this would cause unnecessary and easily avoidable embarrassment to a newly elected labour government with international repercussions.
Whilst we welcome Labour’s goal of trying to ensure in the longer term that those currently supported by the Independent Living Fund can realise rights to live independently and with dignity, the ‘whole person care’ through which Labour intends to deliver on this goal is at this stage only a proposal and any benefits resulting from it are a long way off. Moreover, as respected experts in the field such as Professor Pat Thane have pointed out, the current system is simply not functioning at the necessary level. Relying on the integration of health and social care as a solution to the crisis in social care is thus an irresponsible gamble to take with people’s lives.
Since the closure to new applicants in December 2010 disabled people who missed out on the ILF have suffered dramatically worse outcomes than existing ILF recipients with equivalent support needs. We have provided Kate Green with a number of case studies showing the reality of independent living for disabled people who would have been eligible for ILF but are now only receiving LA social care support. We are not just talking about disabled people no longer being able to go to work, or ever have a holiday or go to university, we are talking about people unable to leave their homes, left without access to food or water, unable to wash more than a couple of times per week.
Whilst the intention of issuing guidelines to local authorities is well meaning, it is unrealistic within the current climate to see these securing the futures of existing ILF recipients. Cash strapped local authorities are very aware of the dangers of setting precedents for providing levels and types of social care support to some individuals and not for others. An LA could easily consider itself to have more to risk by following than not following the guidelines. In order to ensure equity between all adult service users they may well feel they have no choice but to level down.
In the short term we are asking that the ILF be retained as the only way to realistically guarantee protection for existing recipients. Disabled people are aware that this is not a big ask: the ILF represents a relatively small amount of money; the ILF will not be wound down beyond easy repair before May 2015.
The alternative is that disabled people’s right to independent living will be wiped out, potentially for generations. Once a people lose choice and control over their lives, disempowerment sets in and rights that have been smashed aside over-night can only be won back over a long and hard road.
As it stands, if Labour are elected in May 2015, the final nail in the coffin of disabled people’s right to independent living as it currently exists will be hammered in under a Labour government. It does not have to be like this. The Labour Party has a golden opportunity to make a principled stand in support of disabled people and our rights to equality, inclusion and equality by supporting the continuation of ILF. Disabled people are mobilizing and campaigning across the UK, through initiatives like Operation Disabled Vote. A principled stand by Labour on the ILF ahead of the General Election would be welcomed by the 12.2 million disabled people in the UK, our families, friends and supporters.
What you can do to help
We’re therefore asking people to email or tweet to Labour to say that England must not be the only UK country without an Independent Living Fund and that we know and have shown them the evidence that it is not too late to keep an ILF in England as well as in other UK countries. If Labour want disabled people’s votes then they must give an assurance that in the short term at least they will keep the ILF open until such time as something better can be put in place.
You can email Iain McNicoll, general secretary of the Labour Party at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ed Miliband at email@example.com
And Kate Green at firstname.lastname@example.org
Or you can tweet them @IainMcnicol
Please also contact your Prospective Parliamentary Candidates and let us know what replies you get.