The Independent Living Fund has defended what it has admitted was an “unpopular” decision to restrict new funding to clients in work.
Three years after after the ILF was heavily criticised in a government-commissioned review that suggested it should eventually be scrapped, strategic policy director John Fuller said the fund, which provides disabled people with cash to fund care, was valued by its users and delivered support efficiently.
Fuller admitted that its recent decision to limit fund applications from 1 May to clients working at least 16 hours a week was “unpopular” but said that the Department for Work and Pensions agency faced significant financial pressures, and the trust deed governing its operation prioritised supporting those in work.
Eligibility has previously been open to disabled people aged 16-64 who are receiving significant levels of support from social services and are also on income-related benefits, as well as those in work.
In an equality impact assessment of its decision, the ILF admitted it could adversely affect disabled people from lower income groups and those who were less likely to be in work, including women, black and minority ethnic disabled people, those with learning disabilities and younger people.
The Disability Alliance said the decision – when coupled with council cuts to social care – could have a “substantial impact” on disabled people, while Community Care columnist and disability writer Simon Stevens called for the ILF to be scrapped, describing the move as “destructive”.
Stevens said most severely disabled people could either not work or needed ILF funding to help give themselves a chance of employment.
But Fuller said the decision was not set in stone and that the ILF was planning to consult after the general election in May on how it should prioritise funding, which could result in access being extended to applicants who are volunteering or young people in transition to adult services.
He also stressed that 93% of its £360m UK-wide budget was spent on existing users, “the vast majority of whom” were not in work.
The 2007 review of the ILF – by care experts Melanie Henwood and Bob Hudson – criticised the organisation for a lack of engagement with and accountability to service users, said the different assessment systems used by the ILF and councils created confusion and concluded that restrictions on how users could spend funds was out of keeping with personalisation.
It said that in the medium-term ILF money should be transferred to councils to administer through pooled personal budgets, effectively scrapping the fund.
However, Fuller said the DWP had “shelved” the review, and predicted that a future government would not scrap the ILF, so long as the fund improved joint working with councils.
He said: “We are a very efficient way of getting money directly to our users. The ILF spends about 3% of its budget on administration. If the money were to transfer to local authorities it would be mindblowingly expensive.”
This view was backed by Neil Coyle, director of policy at the Disability Alliance, who said: “It’s in some ways the least bureaucratic organisation and the most beneficial to users.”
Fuller added that since 2007 it had improved engagement with service users, saying it had held a big consultation exercise last year on the DWP’s right to control scheme, under which disabled people will be able to control and pool resources from a range of funding streams, including the ILF.
He said that off the back of this, changes would be made to the ILF’s trust deed removing restrictions on the use of fund, which currently can only cover personal care and support with domestic and everyday tasks, in areas piloting the right to control.
He said the ILF was working on a protocol with local authorities to ensure better joint working and would be holding talks with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services in due course. He added: “We are committed to working with local authorities to smooth the applications process so people don’t have to fill in multiple forms.”