I was very sad to see the end of the Independent Living Fund last week – a key source of funding for people with disabilities that has helped them live in the community rather than in care homes.
The Independent Living Fund (ILF) has provided financial support to disabled people since 1998 but closed to new applicants in 2010. The ILF no longer exists in England from 1st July this year as the UK Government transferred responsibility for disabled care funding to local authorities.
How the ILF Helped Disabled People
Last year £320 million provided by ILF helped around 18,000 disabled people in the UK, with each of them receiving an average of £300 per week to help fund essential care services.
ILF recipients were among the most severely disabled people in the UK. The largest group of recipients (around a third) were people with severe learning disabilities and the second largest group were people with cerebral palsy.
Disabled people could use their ILF money to fund care in their own homes, meaning they didn’t have to live in residential care if they didn’t want to, thus preserving their independence.
How Disabled Care Funding Changed on 1st July 2015
As nearly all ILF users were already in receipt of other local authority funding, the UK Government argued that disabled care funding could be better provided through one unified system.
From 1st July 2015, disabled people who previously received both ILF and local authority funding should now receive all of their funding for care services from their local authority.
However, the government has only transferred £262 million of funding to local authorities – this is much less than the £300 million that was previously available via the Independent Living Fund.
What’s more worrying is that local authorities are not required to ring-fence the money they have received from ILF, meaning that they could, if they chose to, spend the money on things other than key care services.
As local authorities don’t have to ring-fence ILF money, these funds are subject to budget cuts, just like any other type of social care funding.
How Will These Changes Impact Disabled People?
This change to care funding for the vulnerable and disabled comes at a time when social care budgets are already being squeezed. There’s a worry that, without a guarantee that funds will be ring-fenced, previous ILF recipients may well find that their support is reduced – or that they are denied access to essential services altogether.
I’m also very concerned that local authorities will be forced to make budget led decisions when considering care options for disabled people, particularly those with high care needs. For example, choosing to fund a cheaper residential care placement rather that a package of care services in the home.
This could easily be contrary to the principles of the new Care Act, which encourages local authorities to work closely with the NHS and other organisations to provide care services tailored to the needs of the individual. There isn’t meant to be any ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to disabled care provision anymore, so making decisions based largely on costs without considering individual needs, the wellbeing of individuals and their human rights (for example right to respect of privacy and family life under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights) wouldn’t seem to comply with the important principles of the Care Act.
An Uncertain Future
The end of ILF also comes at a time when the UK Government seeks to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998.
Since its inception in October 2000, the Act has provided a vital opportunity to rely upon the Articles of the European Convention of Human Rights and has helped disabled people get access to the services they need; enabling them to rely upon to essential principles such as the right to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3), the right not to be deprived of their liberty without lawful authority (Article 5) and their rights under Article 8.
With the future of human rights under scrutiny, the end of the Independent Living Fund and continuing budget cuts, it seems like an uncertain future for vulnerable disabled people in the UK.
Liz Perry is a Court of Protection Lawyer at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK, specialising in community care and disability rights.
For more information or to speak with a Human Rights Lawyer about any of the issues raised in this blog, call Slater and Gordon Lawyers 24/7 on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help you.