Hint of U-turn by Living Fund raises hopes of former long-stay patients

The Independent Living Fund is considering opening up its grant to disabled people who have left long-stay hospitals.

The Department for Work and Pensions this week confirmed that it had held talks with the Department of Health and the ILF over the issue, and said that it was now “a matter
for ILF trustees” to decide whether to change the fund’s eligibility criteria.

If they approve the change, they will reverse a policy of declining applications from people who have been in long-stay hospitals. Campaigners have long considered it to be discriminatory.

In 2001, the ILF reviewed the policy and concluded that accepting such cases would have “significant financial implications” for the fund. It said health authorities and local authorities should have responsibility for care costs.

But Peter Kinsella, chief executive of learning difficulties consultancy Paradigm, said authorities were finding it difficult to shut long-stay hospitals and NHS campuses without additional funding to move people into the community.

The fund, which began in 1988, supports more than 16,000 severely disabled people at a cost of 231m a year. But Kinsella said “thousands” more people could receive support if the ILF decided to consider their applications.

“We have long argued that it is unjust to exclude people with severe and complex needs who have been in NHS residential care from the ILF,” he said.

The department has asked Paradigm to compile evidence of cases where people have been refused ILF because they were previously in long-stay hospitals.

David Congdon, head of policy and campaigns at learning difficulties charity Mencap, would welcome the change in principle.

But he said it would place added financial demands on the ILF, and suggested that more money should be made available.

Congdon said the government should have a “radical look” at organising the funding streams available to people who wanted to live independently if independent budgets were to be a success.

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