Lawyers acting on the behalf of two disabled people have lodged a complaint with the United Nations over the Government’s plan to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF).
The complaint has been brought by Inclusion London, who argue that closing the ILF is in breach of the UK’s obligations to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which was ratified by the UK in 2009.
Severely disabled people rely on the ILF to ensure they can choose to live within their communities, rather than in residential care.
Thousands of disabled people have been supported by the ILF to live active and full lives, contribute to their communities and participate in education, employment, volunteering, family and social life.
The government announced in December 2010 that they would be closing the fund to new applicants. Since then the decision has been subjected to a long legal battle between the government, disabled people and organisations who represent them.
The future of the ILF has been the subject of two legal challenges: the first was won by disabled claimants at the Court of Appeal in November 2013 and the second was lost in the High Court in December 2014.
Without any formal public consultation or impact assessment, the government reiterated its intention to fully close the ILF to all users from 30 June 2015.
Responsibility for providing care solutions for severely disabled people has been devolved to administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and to local authorities in England.
Thousands of disabled people in Scotland are set to be supported through a new Scottish ILF.
In Wales, the devolved administration has decided that local authorities will pay existing ILF recipients their current level of funding. However, future funding will be subject to all-round spending commitments.
Many local authorities in England say they lack the necessary funding to support disabled people to the same extent as the ILF.
Campaigners claim disabled people who have been denied adequate care and support have struggled to take part in day-to-day life.
As a result their quality of life has been greatly diminished and ability to take an active role in local communities has dramatically fallen.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, who are supporting the challenge, said: “It is the pooling of resources and collective solidarity that has allowed this to happen.
“We’re grateful to DPAC supporters for their financial support towards travel costs, to the solicitor and barrister who gave their time pro bono, to Inclusion London for their staffing resources and of course to the two disabled women willing to put themselves forward to make a complaint on an issue that affects all disabled people in the UK.
“Without all of these factors this could never have been brought to fruition.”
Tracey Lazard, CEO of Inclusion London, who authored the complaint said: “The closure of the Independent Living Fund signals the end of independent living for disabled people.
“It took many years for disabled people to fight their way out of the institutions and to have the same chances as anyone else to live in the community alongside family and friends.
“At the current time Local Authorities are simply not able to provide the level of social care support required to uphold disabled people’s fundamental human rights”.
Sophie Partridge, a current ILF recipient, said: “The ILF has played a huge part in supporting me to have equal access to an independent adult life and a level playing field alongside non-disabled people.
“Without the ILF being re-opened to new applicants, I worry that young disabled people will never get the same life chances as I have had.”
Solicitor Louise Whitfield, from law firm Deighton Pearce Glynn, who is representing the complainants said: “From a legal perspective, I cannot see how the UK Government can justify closing the ILF to new applicants with no consultation or consideration of the rights protected under the UN Convention.
“Under Article 19, those rights include the fundamental right to independent living which has clearly been breached by this decision and I hope that the UN Committee takes appropriate action to recognise these very significant breaches”.
Nicky Baker, age 30, is a qualified auditor working within a disabled people’s organisation as well as studying part-time for a degree. Although eligible for support from the ILF, the Fund was closed the day after she telephoned for an application form.
The social care package she receives from her Local Authority does not provide the support she needs to live an independent life, for example to go on dates with her boyfriend without having her parents there or to take part in sufficient training for the high level of powerchair football she reached.
Dr Melanie Wilson Jones received a substantial amount of support including from the ILF after sustaining a brain injury. She made such progress that her needs decreased and thus her support was reduced.
However following a road traffic accident in 2011 she sustained a further brain injury requiring someone to be with her constantly. Now unable to get support from the ILF, she is reliant on her husband who works full-time and her 16-year-old daughter to make up the extra hours of support she needs for evenings and weekends.