The closure of the ILF. By Sarah Whatley

Today, realising that I had forgotten the clock change, I listened to a ‘point of view’ on Radio 4 as I was waking up and was very pleased to hear the voice of Tom Shakespeare, writer and Senior Lecturer, Norwich Medical School, UEA. He began with an interesting comparison – the Royal Family and disabled people. Why? Because as he so eloquently pointed out, both groups of people traditionally live in segregated residential settings, attend special schools, rarely do paid work, are looked after 24/7 and are stared at by strangers in public. The point he wanted to make was that physical dependency is not the same as social dependency.

This brief recall of this stimulating start to my Sunday in no way does justice to the richness of his words but the ‘take away’ message was clear and direct. We are losing the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in the next few months, the fund that pays for people with disabilities to pay for personal assistants, providing care and support to enable people to live autonomously. The loss of the fund will prevent many people with physical and intellectual impairments from living an independent life and playing a full role in society. The price of care/support at home will be largely unaffordable for Local Authorities who will assume responsibilities for finding the finances when the anomalous funding in the form of the ILF from Government ceases this year. Many of those same people will find that they will have no choice but to be placed in residential care (as Shakespeare pointed out, a recent survey found that ‘four out of five adults in residential care were in their pyjamas by 8.30pm every night’).

He reminded us of Paul Hunt who in the 1970s brought attention to the right for people with disabilities to live independently. He, along with others, campaigned against segregation – fighting for the right to live independently, thereby breaking the link between physical and social dependency. We have come along way since then but this right to independence is now under threat. Disabled people will receive lower levels of funding after the demise of the ILF. Some will lose all their funding, some will have minimum support, which will severely limit their ability to participate in the community as they have before. Once again Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will be cited but will it really make a difference when funding is so limited and local authority budgets are so stretched? Shakespeare warns us that some councils are likely to decide that the ‘price of independence is not worth paying’, threatening the rights of people that Hunt campaigned so hard for. Like the Royal Family, Shakespeare reminds us, disability is an accident of birth. The figure Shakespeare gave was that we would only need to find £6 per annum per head of population to preserve the equivalent of the ILF and to cover the costs of those with greatest need to live independently. Is this really a cost too high?

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