What price for independence?
It didn’t matter that it was a dark attic flat with peeling walls, tatty carpets, and resident mice; collecting my first set of keys forty years ago was liberating. Independence at last. I had to work two jobs to pay the mortgage, and ate so many beans on toast I can’t touch them now, but I had somewhere to call my own.
If you’re one of the lucky ones you’ll probably remember a similar moment, and like me you probably hope that as many people as possible get to experience it – keys jangling, horizons widening. Yet as things stand, for people with a disability, opportunities for this kind of independence are seriously under threat. The Independent Living Fund, set up over 30 years ago, with the clear intention of helping people with disabilities lead as independent lives as possible in their own homes, was closed on 1 July 2015, and the money transferred to Local Authorities.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul
While the Government might claim this is not a cut because the money is being transferred to Local Authorities – many are anxious that their independence is under threat because the money hasn’t been ring-fenced. There is no obligation for Local Authorities to spend the money on the people who it was originally intended for. In fact, as Local Authorities face deep cuts to their overall budgets, there is a real possibility that they will be forced to spread it too thinly, as they attempt to cover rising welfare costs in other areas. Out of 106 Local Authorities who responded to a FOI request from Disability Right UK, only 10 said they would definitely ring-fence it to existing recipients, and only a further 10 said that they would ring-fence it for adult social care at all.
These funds were a lifeline for many. For a person with a disability, living your own life, in your home, rather than in a care home is always more expensive. Whether you have additional heating costs because you are less mobile; or transport costs, because public transport doesn’t accommodate your wheelchair; or you need a carer to help you get out of bed, your needs don’t reduce because the funding does. According to SCOPE’s research, those additional costs can add up to £550 per month. For many this cut in funding will mean the difference between covering the basics of life or not. Choosing between having a carer to help you use the toilet or having the heating on in the middle of winter to keep you warm isn’t a choice anyone should have to make.
There is no logic to this move by the Government
We know that the cost of ‘just enough’ care in your own home is cheaper than the cost of a standard care package in traditional forms of care and accommodation – Registered Care. The savings made in the short term will simply force people to rely on more costly forms of care and support to survive. The ILF was good at targeting resources to where it really mattered and where every penny made a real, positive, measurable benefit, we are risking going backwards to a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
We need to protect these hard-won rights to independence and it is incumbent on Disability organisations to work hard to protect these funds. If we don’t, we risk casting thousands back into institutional care – or worse, back into health care as their health breaks down – reducing their ability to contribute to their communities, and effectively throwing away the keys to their independence, and the decades of progress we’ve made.
Neil Taggart, Director of Operations, FitzRoy