By Neil Taggart, director of operations, FitzRoy
It didn’t matter that it was a dark attic flat with peeling walls, tatty carpets and resident mice; collecting my first set of keys forty years ago was liberating. Independence at last.
If you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll probably remember a similar moment and like me you probably hope that as many people as possible get to experience it. But as things stand for people with disabilities, opportunities of this kind are seriously under threat.
The Independent Living Fund, set up over 30 years ago with the clear intention of helping people with disabilities lead as independent lives as possible in their own homes, closed on 30 June 2015.
While the government might claim this is not a cut because the money is being transferred to councils, many are anxious that their independence is under threat because the funding hasn’t been ring-fenced. There is no obligation for local authorities to spend the money on the people it was originally intended for.
Out of 106 local authorities who responded to a freedom of information request by Disability Rights UK, only 24 said they would definitely ring-fence the funding for existing recipients. As councils face deep cuts to their budgets, there’s a real possibility they will be forced to spread the money too thinly, while attempting to cover rising costs in other areas.
These funds were a lifeline for many. For a person with a disability, living your own life in your own home rather than in a care home is always more expensive than for people without a disability. Whether you have additional costs because you are less mobile or transport costs because public transport doesn’t accommodate your wheelchair, your needs don’t reduce because funding does.
According to research by disability charity SCOPE, those additional costs can add up to £550 per month. The demise of the ILF could mean choosing between having a carer to help them use the toilet and having the heating on in winter to keep warm. Choices that that no one should have to make.
We know that the cost of ‘just enough’ care in your own home is cheaper for local authorities to provide than the cost of a standard care package in traditional forms of care and accommodation like registered care. The savings made in the short term will simply force people to rely on more costly forms of care and support to survive.
The Independent Living Fund was good at targeting resources to where it really mattered and where every penny made a real, positive, measurable benefit, we are now risking going backwards to a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
We need to protect these hard-won rights to independence and it is incumbent on disability organisations to protect these funds.
If we don’t, we risk casting thousands back into institutional care, reducing their ability to contribute to their communities and effectively throwing away the keys to their independence and the decades of progress we’ve made.