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Opposition Debate House of Commons 30th June 2014:
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab):
“The motion refers largely to the work capability assessment and the personal independence payment, but it also refers to the disarray in other benefit programmes. I want to concentrate on the independent living fund, which the Government are proceeding to abolish.
On Saturday a group of people with severe disabilities turned up with their carers and in their wheelchairs and chained themselves together in Westminster abbey gardens in protest against the Government’s proposal to proceed with the abolition of the independent living fund. The protest was organised by a group called DPAC—Disabled People Against Cuts. They wanted to remain there for a couple of weeks to try to engage with parliamentarians and others on this issue, but unfortunately 200 police arrived and evicted them from the site, with the support of the Dean of Westminster. I wonder what happened to the sermon on the mount.
I thought that there was cross-party support for the independent living fund—that it was one of the benefits that worked. The idea was to fund carers and others who enabled people with severe disabilities to ensure that they were no longer trapped in residential homes but could live independently in their own homes and participate in wider society, and that as a result of that support some could go to work and earn their income.
I thought we had cross-party agreement that it was one part of the welfare system that was working effectively, but the Government have proceeded to abolish it.
Responsibility is now being transferred to local authorities. The Government are arguing that the Care Act 2014 will enable local authorities to provide a similar level of service, but that is not the case as far as many of the people who already experience the services offered by local authorities are concerned. There has been a cut of £3 billion in expenditure by local authorities on social care for people with disabilities. We have already seen significant cutbacks on levels of care. People who are severely disabled are now anxious that as the money transferred to local authorities is not being ring-fenced, local authorities will cut support for people with disabilities, and that support will not be protected in future.
That is causing concern and desperation among people with disabilities and their carers—so much so that they took the Government to court because of the lack of consultation on the proposals and the lack of consideration of the equalities implications. They won in court, but only a few months ago the Government decided nevertheless to proceed with the abolition of the independent living fund. I believe that will be challenged again by a number of claimants. I hope that this time around the Government will not contest that challenge and that we can come back, discuss the policy and arrive at a consensus again about how we can support the most severely disabled people in our country. We need to do exactly what the ILF was funded to do: to provide care and support so that disability can be overcome at least in the sense that people with disabilities are able to participate in wider society.
The policy is causing extreme consternation not just among disabled people but among their families. We know what will happen: local authority cuts will fall on the individuals and care will fall on to the families themselves—I have to say that in my constituency many of those people are ageing parents—and eventually, because of the abolition of the independent living fund, people will be forced back into residential establishments. At the end of the day, that will prove even more costly than the 17,500 people who are currently receiving the benefit.
I appeal to the House and to the Government to think again on this one. It is one benefit that we all thought we had got right. In the 1980s I served on the Committee on Restrictions against Disabled People. It was the first committee to try to ensure the integration of disabled people in this country. We thought that the independent living fund was the benefit that could succeed. Everyone agreed at that time, and they should agree now.”
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