Since the Coalition Government came to power, it has become increasingly clear that through a combination of austerity policies and ideological cuts (or ‘reforms’) the independence which disabled people have fought for over several decades is under real threat. These threats include, but are not limited to: the replacement of DLA by the ironically-named Personal Independence Payment, the scrapping of the Severe Disability Premium under Universal Credit, the closure of the Independent Living Fund and the pressures on local authority adult social care services which are increasingly under-funded and over-stretched. These latter two threats go hand in hand, and both are in the news today.
During the week in which ILF users start receiving letters to tell them the fund is closing and they will have to make do with support from their local authority, a judicial review of the consultation preceding the closure of the Fund is today being heard in the High Court; this will be accompanied by a vigil outside the Royal Courts of Justice organised by DPAC and Inclusion London.
This afternoon, I will be giving oral evidence to an inquiry into adult social care for working age disabled people, the ILF and independent living, which is being undertaken jointly by the All Party Parliamentary Disability Group and the All Party Parliamentary Local Government Group. I plan to explain my view that adult social care services should in reality be independent living support, based on the social model of disability and, as far as possible, should provide disabled people with equality of opportunity with their non-disabled peers. This is especially important for working age disabled adults, to enable full participation in society on an equal basis – contributing and being included – socially, in paid work and in personal and family relationships.
I believe eligibility criteria should be set nationally and that funding should follow the disabled person, so if they move to another local authority area, perhaps for work or to be close to family or friends, they can be assured of the same level of support. I also believe that working age adults should not have to pay charges for their support, since they have the same aspirations as non-disabled people – for example, to save for the deposit on a flat or for an additional pension, to provide a better quality of life when they’re no longer able to work, or to support their families. However, while charging remains, I believe charging policies should be set nationally and that such policies should leave disabled people with a great deal more income and capital than is currently the case, after they’ve paid the charge or contribution.
If the ILF does close, we must not lose its strong ethos of empowering and independence. ILF funding, which supplements local authority social care support and enables the employment of personal assistants of the client’s choice, supports disabled people to live life to the full – working (and paying taxes), participating in society and playing an equal role in family life. For this ethos to live on, social care services must expand their horizons and aim higher than just meeting basic needs. This will need commitment from the Government, since the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and the Local Government Association (LGA) made it clear in their response to the consultation that they do not anticipate being able to replace the loss of ILF funding with equivalent support locally.
Without greater aspiration on the part of local authorities and increased resources, the closure of the ILF will almost certainly prevent those with the highest support needs from participating in the way they have been able to until now. For disabled people who have ‘done the right thing’, making the most of their abilities, being economically productive and playing their part in society, this will be a cruel blow.
The big question for me is, even in these difficult times, can the Coalition rise to this vital challenge, or will the life chances of disabled people be destroyed for a generation?