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Risk of ‘going backwards’ on disability support

Support for disabled people is in danger of “going backwards”, a campaign group has warned after uncovering a “postcode lottery” in London councils’ provision for disabled people following the abolition of the Independent Living Fund (ILF.)

The ILF was established in 1988 with the intention of providing disabled people with money for care to help them live in the community. It was closed to new applicants in 2010 and permanently closed in 2015.

Disability rights’ group Inclusion London submitted Freedom of Information requests to all London boroughs about the impact of the fund’s closure.

It found that 185 former ILF recipients in London have experienced a reduction to their support package following the fund’s closure.

In her foreword to the report, Dr Jenny Morris OBE said: “For the first time in the history of modern social policy, we are in danger of going backwards in terms of the support available to disabled people.”

In four boroughs (Havering, Hounslow, Newham and Waltham Forest), over 50% of recipients had had their benefits cut.

The government has committed to four years’ worth of funding through the former ILF recipient grant, but only six boroughs said they would ring-fence the funding for former ILF recipients, whilst 18 said they would ring-fence it for adult social care in general and five said they would not ring-fence it at all.

The report notes: “The overwhelming conclusion to be drawn from the FoI responses is the extent to which a dramatic post code lottery operates across London for former ILF recipients. While a number of Councils have made a decision to maintain pre-ILF closure levels of support, others have made substantial cuts suggestive of a systematic approach of ‘levelling down’ packages.”

Despite the Care Act 2014 theoretically giving disabled people various rights in seeking care, including an assessment of their needs, the report said: “The ability and competence of local authorities to implement the Care Act 2014 is highly questionable.”

Former ILF residents interviewed said they did not feel involved in assessment processes and funding decisions.

The report noted: “The Care Act 2014 says many good things but lacks enforcement mechanisms so that it is up to individual Disabled people – those who face the biggest barriers in society – to hold LAs to account. Even where individuals have the rare confidence and support to challenge LA decisions and initiate legal action the changes to legal aid restrict the number of people for whom this is an option.”

A survey from the Carers Trust found that implementing the Care Act is being held back by cuts in the social care system.

The report argues that independent living support should be distributed nationally without local authority control, and plans for this should be developed by an independent taskforce of disabled people and social care service users.

“This also needs to happen quickly, before the memories of what effective independent living support looks like and how much Disabled people can contribute when our support needs are met fade into the distance,” it says.

The campaign group’s report added that national monitoring of how local authorities are implementing the Care Act is “urgently needed”.

Cllr Ray Puddifoot, London Councils’ executive member for adult social care, said: “Local government in London is facing a funding gap in adult social care of between £630m to £817m by 2020. Despite this, local authorities recognise the importance of continuing to support service users – including previous recipients of the ILF – to live independently.

“Councils are already experienced at working with service users and are doing their best to drive forwards the personalisation agenda; supporting and giving people more choice and control of the care they need and in the provision of services that will help to keep service users living independent lives for as long as possible.”

4.15pm UPDATE

A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said: We’ve given the entire £262m ILF budget to local authorities and it’s for them to decide how to administer this funding, as they know best how to support disabled people in their area."

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