On the 6th November 2013 the Appeal Court in London, United Kingdom took a significant and powerful step towards reversing the recent trend towards the cutting of services and funds to disabled people. The Appeal Court unanimously quashed the Government’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund on the grounds that it breached the Public Sector Equality Duty.
The Independent Living Fund system was set up in 1988 in recognition of the fact that severely disabled people are at high risk of social exclusion and face particular barriers to maintaining independent living and working, and that their needs in this regard were not adequately addressed by council provision. The Independent Living Fund provides a ring-fenced budget specifically for the independent living needs of the most severely disabled people in the UK, enabling them to live in the community, to work and play an active part in their community as full citizens. It supports 18,500 disabled people in Britain and people rely on this funding to enable them to live independently with choice and control over their lives.
The British Government proposed that the Independent Living Fund be scrapped in 2015 and its resources transferred to local authorities. Users of the fund were left shocked and extremely anxious as this decision was taken with no evidence of an equality impact assessment having taken place nor any consultation carried out with current and potential beneficiaries of the fund. In 2010, the Independent Living Fund Trustees were forced to temporarily close the fund to new applicants because the amount of funding provided to it had been reduced.
After 2015, users of the fund would receive all support from local authorities. At this moment in time funding for local councils is being dramatically reduced and many authorities are cutting services for disabled people with many now only providing basic personal care. Campaigners argued that because the transferred Independent Living Fund resources would not be ring-fenced, cuts to council social care budgets meant that severely disabled people would receive worse levels of care. Without this extra funding Independent Living Fund user’s only options would be placement in a residential care or more responsibilities being placed on already over stretched family carers, that if the disabled person has family support
The Court of Appeal upheld the legal challenge by five disabled people against the British Government’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in March 2015. The public sector equality duty required the Minister to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination and advance equality of opportunity for disabled people. In particular, this includes the need to remove or minimise the disadvantages suffered by disabled people and the need to encourage their participation in public life. The court made clear that these requirements are not optional in times of austerity.
Any new decision must be taken with proper attention to the Government’s Legal obligations to take account of the impact on disabled people and to consider alternatives that would avoid that impact.
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