One in three London councils have cut the care packages of more than a third of disabled people who were previously receiving support from the Independent Living Fund (ILF), following its closure, according to new research.
The user-led research shows a “postcode lottery” in how different local authorities across the capital have responded to the government’s decision to close ILF in June 2015.
And it shows that more than 250 disabled Londoners with high support needs have lost some of their support since ILF’s closure.
The figures show that, of 24 local councils in the capital that produced full answers to freedom of information requests (FoIs) from the pan-London disabled people’s organisation Inclusion London, eight of them said that a third or more of former ILF-recipients in their borough had had their support packages cut since the closure.
Three local authorities appear to stand out for the severity of their cuts.
Waltham Forest cut the packages of 31 of 86 former ILF recipients by at least half.
Greenwich cut 11 support packages (out of 43 former recipients) by at least half.
And in Havering, eight of 33 former ILF-recipients have seen their support reduced by at least half.
The Inclusion London figures also show that at least seven former ILF-users have been forced to move into residential care since the closure in June 2015.
Six local authorities – the London boroughs of Barnet, Croydon, Hounslow, Sutton, Wandsworth and Westminster – failed to answer Inclusion London’s questions.
Hounslow was one of the worst offenders when Inclusion London carried out similar research in 2016, making cuts to the care packages of about three-fifths of former ILF-users. It now claims it does not hold updated figures.
But some boroughs have made significant efforts to support the care packages of former ILF-users.
In Hammersmith and Fulham, Islington, and Barking and Dagenham, not a single former ILF-user has had their support package reduced since the fund closed in June 2015.
ILF was funded by the Department for Work and Pensions, and by 2015 it was helping nearly 17,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently.
But ministers decided it should be scrapped, promising instead that non-ring-fenced funding would be transferred to councils in England and to devolved governments in Wales and Scotland.
That transition funding has been guaranteed up to 2019-20.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “When the government announced the closure of the Independent Living Fund they assured disabled people that it was not a cut but a transfer to local authorities.
“These latest figures have once again validated concerns about the loss of essential daily support by those with the highest needs.
“What they don’t convey is the anxiety and distress experienced by so many former ILF recipients as they go through lengthy re-assessments and too often then have to battle for reinstatement of support that their local authority is trying to remove.”
She said the government’s decision to extend transition funding to 2019-20 had been made in response to campaigning by disabled people against the fund’s closure, but she pointed out that the funding councils receive is not ring-fenced.
Only 10 of the councils that answered the question said they had ring-fenced the government transition funding for former ILF-recipients, although only one – Greenwich – said it was not ring-fenced for adult social care.
Lazard said: “As responses to our FoIs show, a small number of London boroughs have so little regard for their responsibilities under this grant that they are no longer holding data about which of their residents are former recipients.
“We commend boroughs like Hammersmith and Fulham, and Islington, who are taking seriously their responsibilities towards provision of independent living support, but our research highlights the existence of a social care postcode lottery.
“It also raises the question of what will happen after the final year of the grant in 2020 and underlines why we need a national independent living support service, independent of local authorities.”
A spokesman for London Councils, which represents the capital’s 33 local authorities, declined to say if it was concerned about the research findings, or if it had any explanation for the postcode lottery.
But he said: “At the time of the ILF closure, London Councils warned that any increase in the role and responsibilities of local authorities must be accompanied by an appropriate level of funding from central government.
“But between now and 2020, the funding gap in adult social care will be £300-400 million.”
He added: “There are many positive examples of social care services giving people more choice and control of the care they need to live independent lives for as long as possible.”
The Local Government Association (LGA) also declined to say if it was concerned about the research findings, or if it had any explanation for the postcode lottery.
But an LGA spokesman said in a statement: “While we understand the rationale for transferring former ILF clients over to local authority-coordinated care and support, the transfer must be seen in the wider context of budget pressures both at the time of the transfer and since.
“We recognise the tremendous value placed upon the former ILF scheme by former ILF clients and the sense of independence it generated.
“Councils have been doing all they can to ensure people have the same sense of choice and control and will continue to do so.
“But this is becoming increasingly difficult in the context of a significant funding gap, both here and now and into the future.”
Cllr Stephen Cowan, leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council, said: “We recognise that independent living support is critically important for disabled people to be able to participate as equal citizens.
“That’s why we guaranteed to continue our funding after the ILF was cut by the government.
“Without this funding, our residents – who are often the most excluded from everyday life – could have been left facing severe and adverse consequences.
“We have also abolished home care charges and invested an extra £3.4 million per year into adult social care.”
Last week, Cowan’s council was praised for commissioning a ground-breaking report on co-production and accepting its recommendations.
The Scottish government has set up its own ILF in Scotland.
The Welsh government announced in 2016 that, after a two-year transition period, it would transfer all the £27 million-a-year transition funding from the UK government directly to councils.
It decided there would be no continuation of an interim Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) scheme it had been running as a stopgap since June 2015, and would not set up a new Welsh ILF.
Welsh local authorities will be solely responsible for meeting the support needs of all former ILF-recipients by 31 March 2019.
Disabled activists in Wales, led by former ILF-user Nathan Lee Davies, are fighting the Welsh government’s decision to scrap WILG.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com