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Closing fund for disabled lawful

A government decision to close a fund that helps the disabled to work and live in the community has been ruled lawful by a High Court judge.

Mrs Justice Andrews, sitting in London, had been asked to quash Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith's decision on March 6 this year to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF) from June 30 2015.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has warned that closure of the fund "will result in loss of dignity and independence for many ILF recipients".

But today the judge ruled that the decision was reached lawfully.

As she announced her ruling, she offered her sympathy to those she said she knew would find it a "great disappointment".

The EHRC says that some 18,000 severely disabled people risk losing essential funding in breach of the UK's international commitments to support disabled people.

During a hearing at the High Court in October, David Wolfe QC, appearing for two severely disabled applicants in lead cases, argued that the Work and Pensions Secretary unlawfully failed to discharge his public sector equality duty (PSED) under the 2010 Equality Act.

He said the claimants seeking judicial review were currently receiving payments in the range of £450 to £500 per week from the ILF to pay for support from personal assistants.

This support was critical to them being able to live independent lives in their own homes, rather than residential care, and to work and study, said Mr Wolfe.

The application for judicial review - dismissed by the judge today - was the second legal battle over the ILF.

In December 2012, Esther McVey, then minister for disabled people, announced the fund would be closed and the funds distributed to local authorities area by area without any ring-fencing.

Her decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal in December last year on the grounds that she had unlawfully failed to discharge her PSED duty. This led to a fresh decision which was challenged in the latest action.

Mr Wolfe said the Government plan was to disburse the ILF funds to local authorities at least for one year, after which they were not guaranteed.

But there was no ring-fencing or guarantee that the money would be spent by the local authorities on those disabled people who had previously benefited from the ILF, and the funds could be used for something entirely different.

The Government case is that changes to social care have called into question having a separate funding stream through the ILF, and it argues that the vast majority of disabled people with care needs are already looked after through the adult social care system.

It contends the plan to transfer the existing ILF budget of £260 million to local authorities is the right way to ensure disabled people get the targeted support they need to live independent lives.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, said: "The care system is on its knees."

He said: "Scope is very concerned about the closure of the Independent Living Fund, because it's likely to lead to fewer disabled people being able to live independently.

"Funding will be transferred to councils, but there will be no guarantee that the money will be used to support disabled people to live independently, or that former ILF users will receive the same levels of support, given the pressures on local authority finances.

"The care system is on its knees. Chronic under-funding and year-on-year rationing mean that too many people that need help to get up, get dressed, get washed and live independently face a daily struggle for support."

"With its recent care reforms, the Government has set out an ambitious vision for the future of social care. But if this vision is to become a reality, social care needs sustainable funding".

Wheelchair-bound John Kelly, 45, from Wimbledon, south-west London, who was at court today, said: "I am absolutely gutted - not just for myself but for the thousands of people this decision will impact on.

"It is bonkers. Even the judge said she was making the decision with sympathy. It is an attack by the Government on the ability of over 18,000 disabled people to be able to live independently in our society.

"Even the minister knows that his decision-making is going to make that happen."

Jonathan Kaye, from Uxbridge, west London, said: "This is a deeply regrettable decision which will undoubtedly have a political impact. There is no way in which disabled people can vote for the Conservative party now."

Mr Kaye, who is in his early 40s and a disability consultant at the Royal Courts of Justice prior to a meeting with Government ministers, added: "It is likely that many will not be able to afford the carers who help them live independent lives.

"Money is being passed to local authorities to help us, but it will not be ring-fenced and the local authorities will be under no obligation to pass it on to those who need it."

A carer for the disabled, who did not want to give her name, said: "Carers are seeing the same fear among people who do not know what is going to happen to them as they saw with the bedroom tax."

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