Decision due on fund for disabled

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Published: Monday 8th December 2014 by The News Editor

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The High Court rules today on the legality of a government decision to close a fund that helps the disabled to work and live in the community.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has warned closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) “will result in loss of dignity and independence for many ILF recipients”.

The Commission argues some 18,000 severely disabled people risk losing essential funding in breach of the UK’s international commitments to support disabled people.

Protesters in wheelchairs demonstrated outside London’s Law Courts at a hearing of the case in October before Mrs Justice Andrews, who is handing down her decision today.

David Wolfe QC, appearing for two severely disabled applicants in lead cases, asked the judge to quash Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s decision on March 6 this year to close the ILF from June 30 2015.

Mr Wolfe argued the minister unlawfully failed to discharge his public sector equality duty (PSED) under the 2010 Equality Act.

He said the claimants seeking judicial review were currently receiving payments in the range of £450 to £500 per week from the ILF to pay for support from personal assistants.

This support was critical to them being able to live independent lives in their own homes, rather than residential care, and to work and study, said Mr Wolfe.

The application for judicial review is the second legal battle over the ILF.

In December 2012, Esther McVey, then minister for disabled people, announced the fund would be closed and the funds distributed to local authorities area by area without any ring-fencing.

Her decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal in December last year on the grounds that she had unlawfully failed to discharge her PSED duty. This led to the fresh decision now under challenge.

Lawyers for the Work and Pensions Secretary are defending the decision.

Mr Wolfe said that the Government plan was to disburse the ILF funds to local authorities at least for one year, after which they were not guaranteed.

But there was no ring-fencing or guarantee that the money would be spent by the local authorities on those disabled people who had previously benefited from the ILF, and the funds could be used for something entirely different.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, EHRC chief legal officer, said: “Fairness, dignity and respect are values we all share.

“Even if local authorities are given money in compensation, the closure of the Independent Living Fund will result in loss of dignity and independence for many ILF recipients.

“When the closure of the Fund was considered previously, the Court of Appeal found that insufficient consideration had been given to the consequences, which are potentially very grave for some recipients.

“The extent of the impact is still unclear, but if the closure goes ahead it will be a regressive step in terms of the right of disabled people to live independently.”

The Government case is that changes to social care have called into question having a separate funding stream through the ILF, and it argues that the vast majority of disabled people with care needs are already looked after through the adult social care system.

It contends the plan to transfer the existing ILF budget of £260 million to local authorities is the right way to ensure disabled people get the targeted support they need to live independent lives.

A DWP spokesman said: “Our position on the ILF is clear but it would be inappropriate to comment on an ongoing legal case.”

Published: Monday 8th December 2014 by The News Editor

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