More than 99 per cent of disabled people who use the Independent Living Fund (ILF) believe that it improves their ability to live independently, just as the government is preparing to abolish it.
The coalition is planning to close ILF in June 2015 – with non-ring-fenced funding passed instead to local authorities – even though the minister for disabled people, Mike Penning, has admitted that some ILF-users could be “adversely affected” by its closure.
ILF’s new annual report says that more than 97 per cent of ILF-users are satisfied with how the fund operates, while more than 97 per cent say it improves their quality of life, and more than 96 per cent say it allows them more choice and control in their life.
Only two per cent of ILF revenue is spent on administering the fund, through 124 staff, and 92 self-employed independent assessors who visit ILF-users in their own homes every two years to assess their needs.
The annual report was published as the response to a freedom of information request revealed just 244 allegations of ILF fraud were investigated over the four years from 2010-11 to 2013-14.
And of those 244 allegations, only seven cases were referred to the police, and just three led to successful prosecutions.
ILF is a government-resourced trust which helps more than 17,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently.
Mike Penning, the Conservative minister for disabled people, insists that passing ILF funding from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to local authorities would be an improvement on the current two-tier system, in which some disabled people with high support needs receive ILF support and some do not.
Last week, Penning said that some of the “scare stories” about the closure of ILF that have appeared in the media were “unfounded”, and he claimed that disabled people with high support needs who have been unable to join ILF since it was closed to new members in 2010 have had their needs met by local authorities.
But ILF-user Stuart Bracking said that little more than a decade ago, ILF – with the support of the Labour government and DWP – set up a specialist team to encourage social workers from local authorities with a low ILF take-up to increase their number of ILF claims. That led to thousands of new applications.
Bracking said: “In particular, the fund’s individual assessment of need and flexible approach to the costing of care packages helped to meet people’s critical needs in a way local authority social services could not.”
He said he believed the problems facing ILF now stem from the concerted push towards using “resource allocation systems” and “personal budgets” to “organise the scant resources in social care at a local level”.
He said: “As part of this ‘personalisation’ policy, the closure of the fund has been pursued single-mindedly by the DWP with the active support of a layer of academics, social care professionals and disability organisations (who should have known better) that support ‘personal budgets’ and the location of all independent living support within local authorities.
“This layer is not satisfied with the ILF as the fund’s continued existence undermines this development which has now been placed on a statutory footing in England through the Care Act.”
Fellow ILF-user Debbie Domb said she believed that ILF should be kept open, opened back up to new users, and run in co-production with ILF-users.
Although her current satisfaction levels with the fund are not high – due to problems in securing the increased support that was recommended by the ILF independent assessor and her council social worker – her previous satisfaction level was good.
This compared with her experience with social services, where there “doesn’t seem to be much awareness about what ILF is or the concept of independence for disabled people”.
She added: “Mike Penning clearly demonstrated in the recent Westminster Hall debate on the future of the ILF that he does not understand the role of ILF in our independent living, and more crudely doesn’t give a toss anyway.”
DWP is currently facing a fresh legal action being brought by Bracking and two other ILF-users, who are seeking a judicial review of Penning’s decision to close the fund.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com