On the 24th June Independent Living Fund (ILF) users and Disabled People against Cuts (DPAC) stormed Westminster Parliament to protest against the closure of the Independent Living Fund. Wheelchair users and disabled people almost succeeded in getting into the main chamber where the Prime minister and the cabinet were engaged in a televised Prime ministers question time.
The protesters sped on their route to main chamber –with loud chants of ‘save the ILF’ echoing through the Parliament. Forty to fifty police received the emergency signal and rushed into the area to protect our poor defenseless MPs from disabled people. Police were rough, spinning wheelchair users around and physically assaulting some. The protesters reached the door of the chamber and one had his hand on the handle of the door to the chamber before being knocked back by police. BBC news went live with the action –a stunned reporter describing the scenes as like nothing he had ever seen before. The British Parliament went into ‘lock down’ with no one allowed in or out for 30 minutes. The direct action received national and international coverage. But apart from the 3 sympathetic freelance journalists we have taken in with us, no other press were allowed in. BBC TV cameras were ordered by parliament to stop filming after several minutes. Those of us in the Parliament were told to stop photos and filming, but continued.
Disabled people have been hit 19 times more by Government cuts than any other group , with those with higher support needs being hit 29 times more than any other group. Another 12 billion pounds worth of cuts are to be announced in the budget –disabled people are expected to be hit again. We have no alternative but to keep fighting in any way we can. DPAC have been undertaking direct actions on the streets and online since 2010. We have more direct actions planned.
The ILF was set up in 1988 to provide support to enable disabled people with high support needs to live in the community instead of residential care. Since then the Fund has supported thousands to enjoy the same opportunities as non-disabled people through education, paid employment, volunteering and raising families. The closure of the ILF to new applicants in December 2010, the subject of a complaint to the United Nations launched in March, has resulted in disabled people trapped in their homes or dependent on friends and family placing an intolerable strain on relationships while denying disabled people the chance to lead independent lives .
After 30th June the ILF will be permanently closed and responsibility for meeting the support of the 17,600 existing recipients will be transferred to Local Authorities. As part of the transition process money will be devolved from central government to LAs for nine months from July 2015 – 2016. The money will be less than the current ILF budget with a 5% top-slice removed and will not be ring-fenced so LAs will be free to use it anyway they choose .
Under the Care Act, Local Authorities have a duty to continue support at the same level as provided by the ILF until reassessment but many people directly affected are not aware of this and many ILF recipients and their families are still waiting for information about what to expect after 30th June. Thirty of the Local Authorities responding to DPACs Freedom of Information requests do not have a timescale for completion while 17 local authorities have set a target date later within the next nine months. 78 said they were aiming to have all reassessments completed by the end of June 2015 but the picture on the ground from ILF recipients themselves suggests many are not on target. In the meantime ILF recipients and their families are left anxiously waiting, not knowing when they will be reassessed or what the outcome will be and much longer they can continue employing their Personal Assistants for.
Others who have been contacted by their Local Authority have been left devastated by notification of cuts to their essential support. One disabled woman who currently receives twelve hours of support per day has been told to expect a cut to just three. She has been told that the she can sit in incontinence pads during the hours for which support is not funded and can ask random members of the community for support to take medication. Others have been told that the Local Authority will not pay the living wage for Personal Assistants employed to support disabled people and so transfer will mean a cut to the terms and conditions of staff who have been valued in already low paid jobs over many years. For disabled people with high support needs who have overcome sizeable barriers to contribute to society the loss of support resulting from the closure of the ILF will end their careers, for example as schoolteachers, and lead to a return to a society where people with impairments can no longer be part of society.
Brian Hilton, an ILF recipient, said: “The ILF closes next week and I have no idea what level of support I will receive. My family, my staff and I are all living in fear”.
You can see a video from the protest here.
4) For more information about the UN complaint: http://www.inclusionlondon.co.uk/UK-Disabled-people-appeal-UN-over-Independent-Living-fund-closure
Mainstream care and support system is incompatible with the level and range of support provided by the ILF, for example ILF recipients often pay their Personal Assistants more per hour than Local Authority Personal Budget policies allow, many Local Authorities have stopped providing night-time support, instead placing disabled people who are not incontinent in incontinence pads rather than funding support to get to the toilet, and families, friends and even neighbours are expected to take on more and more support. Whereas the ILF provided support with domestic tasks such as cooking and shopping, Local Authority support packages are increasingly restricted to a clean and feed model, often with restrictions on for example the number of times a person can bathed each week. The amount some disabled people receive through the ILF exceeds the maximum many LAs will spend on community care support. All of these factors were considered when the government made the decision to close the ILF. In the high court last year the DWP argued that the then Minister for Disabled People Mike Penning was made fully aware of “the inevitable and considerable adverse effect” that transfer to LAs would have on disabled people. In the judgment passed down on 8 December 2014 Justice Andrews concluded that the assumption on which Mr Penning based his decision was that “independent living might well be put seriously in peril for … most (or a substantial number of) ILF users”. For the judgment see: http://www.scomo.com/news081214.php
5) On top of this is the fact that whereas the ILF operated to overheads of just 2%, the average LA budget that goes on overheads is around 16%.
7) The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all making their own arrangements to protect ILF recipients after 30th June. The Scottish government have announced they will be setting up and re-opening to new applicants their own version of the independent living fund while Wales are ring-fencing the money devolved from central government up until April 2016 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/scottish-governments-decision-on-a-scottish-independent-living-fund