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By Debbie le Quesne

Clear strategy please on Independent Living Fund

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You can tell it’s the silly season. That time of year when parliament is on holiday and seemingly most other people too.

Suddenly no-one is available . . . sorry Mrs Thorltropp is on a fortnight’s break . . . and the news content on our TV screens changes.

But there’s one thing that seems to have slipped under the media radar during these slower news weeks. In the last days of the parliamentary term, almost unnoticed, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) issued a slim consultation document on the future of the independent living fund (ILF).

We are aware the end of the ILF has been in sight for some time.

In June 2010 it announced it was closing to new applications for the rest of the financial year because of insufficient funding. In December of the same year the government confirmed the fund would be permanently closed to new users and funding for existing users would be maintained until the end of the current parliament in 2015.

Yesterday, The Guardian put the matter into the public arena with an article by Melanie Henwood, a health and social care consultant.

The consultation is concerned with how the needs of the 19,373 users can be met “within a single cohesive care and support system”.

For sure, the closure of the ILF would be a significant decision and must be matched by a clear strategy that spells out how devolving responsibility to local government would work – something this government struggles with it seems.

Ms Henwood explains: “In 2006 Bob Hudson and I were commissioned by the DWP to undertake an external strategic review of the ILF, and we reported in 2007, making almost 70 recommendations. We concluded that it is highly anomalous for significant amounts of public money to be administered through a cash-limited, discretionary fund controlled by a board of trustees.

“The model produced inequity, variation in take up, arbitrary decision making and poor accountability. Such a paternalistic approach to allocating cash to support disabled people living independently appears anachronistic and out of tune with modern approaches to personalisation and individual budgets.”

The outcome so far is a recommendation of a full integration of ILF funding with personal budgets, rather than the continuation of a parallel system of social care funding.

Significantly, the consultation document also says that there should be no radical change unless, or until, a better alternative was in place in order to protect people using the ILF from disruption or loss.

I applaud this undertaking. Cynical, I may be, but most ‘reviews’ or ‘consultations’ have come to mean less at the sharp end of caring.

The ILF has played an important part in the development of cash for care, and it has been invaluable for people who have received support from the fund.

But, Ms Henwood writes, “it was always an anomaly. It was originally set up in 1988 to mitigate the impact of some of the changes in moving from supplementary benefit to the new system of income support. It was expected the arrangement would provide transitional protection only and would close within five years.”

This never happened. The fund proved highly popular and, despite the expectation it would support just 300 people, there were 900 applications per month in its first year, later rising to more than 2,000. At its peak in 2006 there were 22,000 people using the ILF at an annual cost of £250m, the invited columnist points out.

In a nutshell, proposals now focus on the fact that “the objectives of the ILF could be met within the care system administered by local authorities”.

In the past the ILF has provided a way for local authorities to securing additional support for high cost care packages.

It has also effectively concealed “the true extent of social care underfunding,” says Ms Henwood,

 When the limited budget hit the buffers it was clear the system could not continue to operate in this way.

There is a commitment to “fully protecting care packages of existing users until 2015”.

What happens beyond that, who knows? Judging by the White Paper episode of recent weeks, I’m sure there will be clear direction soon (not).

The government’s “preferred option” is that following the closure of the ILF, funding will be devolved to local authorities.

I agree totally with Ms Henwood that the big challenge in devolving funding will be how to ensure it reaches its target.

Ringfencing of funds in local government is not popular. My fears are that if is not, it may just slowly filter into general local authority coffers.

We need some direction AGAIN Mr Cameron. please.

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Written by debbielq

August 22, 2012 at 7:59 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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