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Posted on 17 July 2012 at 12:10 GMT

Oppose the closure of the Independent Living Fund

For a national demonstration now

On 12 July, Tory minister for disabled people Maria Miller announced in parliament the final coup de grace for the national Independent Living Fund (ILF) when she launched a government consultation on what should happen to its 19,000 users when it is closed in April 2015.

The government coalition's preference in England is to transfer responsibility for ILF users to local authorities.

This consultation is the culmination of five years of uncertainty for ILF users and their families since an 'independent' review of the ILF in 2007 recommended its closure.

This uncertainty is faced by some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and the family carers who share their day-to-day struggle for help from underfunded statutory services.

The ILF has existed since 1988 and through a central government grant provides significant financial support towards the care packages of more than 19,000 disabled people with either a significant physical impairment or learning disability.

In the financial year 2010/11 ILF expenditure amounted to 359 million, but fell to 333 million during 2011/12 due to staff redundancies at the ILF's Nottingham office and the impact of falling numbers of users since the closure of the ILF to new applicants in 2010.

The case of the former Scottish Ballet prima ballerina Elaine McDonald (see The Socialist issues 646 and 679) illustrates the difference ILF funding can make to a disabled person's quality of life.

Following a lengthy legal case, the Supreme Court agreed in July 2011 that Tory-led Kensington and Chelsea council could withdraw their overnight support and expect Elaine to use incontinence pads or sheets (although she is not incontinent) instead of the help of a live-in care worker.

The case arose after an application by Elaine and her council to the ILF to fund overnight support failed because a key form was not returned in time.

Elaine's council was prepared to provide 450 funding a week for her daytime support, but chose to withdraw its temporary funding for her overnight support.

The consequence for Elaine is she now has to spend twelve hours a day in bed alone in her flat. But as important for disabled people is that the Supreme Court decision allows local authorities to set upper funding limits for care packages which are at the equivalent cost of residential care.

The example of Worcestershire county council's plan to introduce an upper limit of 750 a week that will deliberately push some disabled people under 65 without family support into residential care illustrates what will await many ILF users by 2015 if Maria Miller's plan to close the ILF goes ahead.

It is vital that opposition to the closure of the Independent Living Fund moves from the internet onto the streets.

Disabled People Against Cuts must take a lead and call a national demonstration for September.

Independent Living Fund user

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 17 July 2012 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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