Last week the Government confirmed its intention to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF).  The ILF has been closed to new applicants for nearly four years and from June 2015, it will close entirely. 

This isn’t the first time the Government has taken this decision – the closure was originally announced back in December 2012, but was
successfully challenged through the Court of Appeal which quashed the decision late last year.

In order to comply with the requirements of the Court of Appeal’s decision, the Government recently issued a new Equality Impact Assessment, which looked afresh at the impact of closing the ILF.  On the back of this assessment, the Government has again announced that the ILF will close in 2015.  Funding will instead be allocated to local authorities – although it’s not clear on what basis – and they will be expected to use the funds to support those who have lost their ILF funding.   However, as the money isn’t ring fenced and local authorities are facing enormous spending pressures across the board, it seems unlikely that the new funding will be used precisely as intended.

When it was set up in the late 1980s, the ILF was considering pioneering as it provided disabled people with direct payments to decide what their care should look like and enabled people to make decisions about their own lives.  Over 18,000 people – a third of whom have severe learning disabilities - are currently funded through the ILF, the majority of whom also receive support from their local authority.  The Government’s argument for closure is that the legal and external environment has changed significantly since the late eighties, as local authorities now have a legal duty to assess and fund the eligible care needs of disabled people.

This may well be the case in theory, but as has been thoroughly documented, both anecdotally and through research, the numbers of older and disabled people who are eligible for support have dropped significantly since 2010 which means that many people have had their funding or hours of support cut.  A report released by the National Audit Office only yesterday paints a grim picture of the state of funding for adult social care, saying that while the numbers of people who need support is rising, the amount that local authorities are spending on care dropped by 8% between 2010 and 2013 and is projected to continue falling.  The NAO went on to say that the combination of rising demand, reduced local authority spending on social care and reductions in benefits are likely to be putting unsustainable pressures on carers and the health service.

So where does this leave people who rely on care and support?  Earlier this week, the Care Bill completed its penultimate Parliamentary stage and will soon be given Royal Assent.  The aspirations behind the Bill – of refocusing care and support on people’s physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing, the emphasis on preventative support, and resolution of long standing problems such as ordinary residence – are admirable and are a significant shift from the climate that existed when the Independent Living Fund was originally established.  But without substantial investment in care from the Government, the aims of the Bill are very unlikely to be achieved and a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform care will be lost.

Next week George Osborne will take to the despatch box in Parliament for the last time before the 2015 elections to set out his spending plans for the next year.  Alongside the Care and Support Alliance, we are calling on the Chancellor to take this opportunity to invest in care, ensuring that this Government ends the care crisis and leaves a legacy for better support.  If the ILF is scrapped at the same time as services are cut, new funds are crucial to avoid a further deterioration in our current social care system.  If you want to add your voice to the campaign, please sign up to the Care and Support Alliance’s Thunderclap action and make sure that care and support is a top priority in the Budget.

Rachel Bowen, Campaigns Officer