The government is to press ahead with the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), despite losing a Court of Appeal battle over the plan.
The Department for Work and Pensions originally planned to abolish the fund on 31 March 2015, but was forced to review the move after the Court of Appeal ruled that it had failed to comply with its legal duty to promote equality when making the decision.
The fund provides cash payments to top-up local authority social care support to around 18,500 severely disabled people so they can live more independently.
In a statement to Parliament, disability minister Mike Penning said the department carried out a new equality analysis following the court’s verdict and that he recognised the concern users of the fund had about closing the ILF.
“However,” he said. “I do not believe that continuing a separate system of support, operating through a discretionary trust and outside the statutory mainstream adult social care system is the right approach.”
Penning said the choice and control the fund gave disabled people was now being offered through adult social care services and that a two-tier arrangement that only benefitted a “relatively small proportion of disabled people” was unjustifiable.
He said the government will now shut the fund on 30 June 2015 and that councils in England will take over responsibility for the care and support needs of those supported by the fund from that date.
What happens to fund recipients in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is a matter for the devolved administrations, he added.
Sue Bott, director of policy and development at Disability Rights UK, said its members would be “very disappointed and worried” by the decision.
“The Equality Impact Assessment whilst acknowledging there will be an adverse impact dismisses such concerns on the grounds that they can’t be quantified accurately, or the Care Bill will make everything in the garden rosy again, or – extraordinarily – some concerns are simply the result of an outdated view of local authorities,” she said.
“The priority now must be to ensure that all fund recipients get the best package possible from their local authority.”
The union Unite also condemned the decision.
Siobhan Endean, national officer for equalities at the union, said: “Unite believes that the closure of the Independent Living Fund will have a catastrophic impact on disabled people and their right to live independent and fulfilling lives.
“The government has shown a complete disregard for disabled people and the Court of Appeal decision. The people who benefit from the fund, will now face a local government postcode lottery.”
However the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said councils are well-placed to take over the reins.
“This move will not in itself create any kind of postcode lottery; it will simply replicate the existing distribution of Independent Living Fund funding, which has developed historically with differential take-up across the country, but within local council budgets,” said John Nawrockyi, co-chair of the ADASS Disabilities Network and director of adult social services at Greenwich Council.
“Councils are in a strong position to take up this work, with extensive experience of direct payments and personal budgets.”
“Furthermore, ADASS has worked closely with the Independent Living Fund and the Local Government Association to agree a formal protocol for the re-assessment and review of fund recipients in the Transitional Review Programme taking us to December 2014 prior to the funding transfer.”