Independent living for disabled people diminishing, six years on from strategy to deliver it, warns report

Restrictions on use of personal budgets and care and benefit cuts contribute to damning verdict on independent living strategy

Independent living for disabled people is in reverse, six years on from a government strategy to deliver improved choice and opportunity, a damning report has concluded.

Across social care, income, work opportunities and access to services, there has been “no evidence of significant progress” in disabled people’s experiences since the independent living strategy was published by the last Labour government in 2008.

The strategy set a five-year goal to give disabled people more choice and control over the provision of support for daily living and to make significant progress in reducing barriers to opportunities and access to employment, transport, health and housing.

Last week’s report, by longstanding disability researcher and campaigner, Jenny Morris, was published by campaigning charity Disability Rights UK and In Control, the charity that developed the concept of self-directed support. It found:

  • In 2008, 24% of disabled people reported that they did not frequently have choice and control in their lives, rising to 26% in 2011, according to Office for Disability Issues figures;
  • In 2012-13, 32% of social care service users reported having as much control as they want over their daily life, up slightly from the 30% figure for 2010-11, collected through annual Health and Social Care Information Centre statistics;
  • Forty five per cent of disabled people were in work in 2013, compared with 77% of people without any health condition, and there has been no lowering of the employment gap since 2010 (Department for Work and Pensions figures).

One area of progress was the increase in the proportion of social care service users  receiving personal budgets, which rose from 38.3% to 51% for people of working-age, and from 45.2% to 57.9% for people aged over 65, from 2011-12 to 2012-13. The National Personal Budgets Survey, carried out by In Control and Lancaster University last year, found that service users generally reported better outcomes after moving from traditionally-commissioned care to personal budgets. But it also found that their impact was being undermined in some council areas by bureaucratic processes.

This was highlighted by Morris’s report, which said there was “common anecdotal evidence” that councils were not implementing personal budgets in line with good practice, by restricting how they are used and placing onerous auditing requirements on disabled people who use them.

The Morris report also said that cuts to social care budgets and welfare benefits were undermining independent living for disabled people. Latest official figures – not included in the Morris report – show there were 29% fewer people receiving council-funded social care in 2014-15 compared with 2008-9. The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services recently reported that councils have slashed care budgets by 26% from 2010-11 to 2014-15, after inflation and demographics have been taken into account.

The report also raised significant concerns about the abolition of the Independent Living Fund – which provides cash payments to fund additional social care for about 18,000 severely disabled people – next year. Though its budget will be transferred to councils, the government’s own assessment showed that most service users faced “the real possibility of a reduction in the funding they currently receive”.

Morris also cited analysis by the think-tank Demos that found that 3.7m would experience some loss of income as a result of the cumulative impact of government welfare changes and the abolition of the ILF, from 2010-17.

The report’s analysis was limited by the facts that most of the datasets on which evidence to track progress against the independent living strategy were scrapped after 2008. The coalition government has produced its own disability strategy, Fulfilling Potentialwhich aims to improve outcomes across six areas – education, employment, income health and wellbeing, choice and control and on the inclusivity of communities. The Office for Disability Issues has promised to produce an annual report on progress.

In response to the report, a spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions, which leads on disability for the government, said: “The UK has a generous system of support for disabled people, spending around £50bn a year on benefits and services. Our reforms will make sure the billions spent give more targeted support and better reflect today’s understanding of disability.”

The DWP also claimed that the figures used in the report were “inaccurate or out of date” and defended the abolition of the ILF, on the grounds that there was not a need to have a separate funding stream for social care in addition to local authority funding.

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