By Janet Burgess, deputy leader and executive member for health and wellbeing, Islington Council
My council is under significant pressure. Since 2010, central government has cut our funding in half. We’ve already had to save £150m. We are expected to find a further £70m of savings by 2020.
The financial climate means few local authority spending decisions are simple and straightforward. There are, however, exceptions.
The Independent Living Fund (ILF) was a pot of money that paid for vulnerable people with disabilities to live the lives they want and value. It enabled 18,000 people across the country – including 78 in our borough – to buy their own care and support and live as independently as possible.
As disability rights activist, Baroness Jane Campbell, noted: “The ILF enabled people such as me to be full and active members of the society we live in”.
‘Alarm among users’
Last summer the government abolished the ILF. It moved to provide the funding directly to local authorities instead. The switch was justified on the grounds that all social care support would be provided through one main system, managed by councils.
There were questions marks over how and for how long the government would fund the support. However, earlier this month, ministers confirmed that this funding will be made available to councils for the next four years – levelled between £1.3m and £1.18m a year.
The rub, however, lies in the government’s decision to remove the ‘ring-fence’ around the money. This leaves increasingly cash-strapped councils free to spend it on other services or use it to balance the books, should they so wish. This has understandably caused alarm among many ILF users.
‘Empower and enable’
There was never any question about what we would use the money for here in Islington. We pledged some time ago that we would spend the funds we were allocated for ILF on those residents who have always needed it and benefited from it. This is exactly what we will do.
We will support people with the level of care they received from ILF and continue to review this on an annual basis to make sure that people are getting the right support for their needs.
Many ILF recipients have already been hit hard by the government’s cuts to welfare benefits. There is no doubt that the lack of commitment to continue the ILF itself exacerbated their anxiety. But the ILF was a great idea; it empowered and enabled a lot of individuals and made their lives better. So for us, this was a simple spending decision. If a pot of money is for a specific purpose, then it should be used for that purpose.
This was a question of simply doing what is right. For as long as the government continues to provide this funding, Islington will make sure it reaches the people who really need it.