Yesterday I spoke out about the importance of the Independent Living Fund. This is a fund specifically designed to help those living with a disability to live independent lives in our communities, providing financial assistance to those already in receipt of support from social services to allow them to access essential support.
The eligibility criterion for the Independent Living Fund was tightened in the dying days of the last Labour Government in 2010 with no consultation, so that it would only accept applications from those in paid employment of 16 hours a week. This meant as of 01st May 2010, the Independent Living Fund was entirely closed to new applications across the UK apart from those in paid employment. Given the disability employment gap, locking thousands of disabled people out of the fund altogether.
Many disability charities and campaigners feel this closure to new applications sounded the death knell of the very survival of this support.
The UK Government’s closure of the scheme in 2015 and transferring it to local authorities has, by the DWP’s own admission, caused severe hardship for many recipients.
A huge issue of concern is the short sighted decision not to ring fence this fund when devolving it to local authorities in England and Wales. There can be little doubt that this has created a postcode lottery. Indeed, because local authorities determine their own eligibility criterion local authorities may not provide the same level of funding as the Independent Living Fund did previously. When we consider that this fund is about vital support, this is simply unacceptable and is a decision that really needs, in all good conscience, to be revisited.
However, the SNP Scottish Government has chosen a different path. The SNP Government created the public body, Independent Living Fund Scotland in 2015 following the closure of the UK Scheme to administer the £47.2m of the former Independent Living funding to support around 2,600 people in Scotland with 99% of recipients in Scotland stating that this fund helps them live more independent lives. In addition, the Scottish Government injected an additional £5m to support those aged between 16 and 21 – a Transitional Fund to help them into adulthood and from the end of last year is open to new applications.
The SNP Scottish Government has worked with those living with a disability to develop this fund to ensure that they have choices and are treated with dignity, respect and fairness.
It is essential and should go without saying, that the voices of those who will be directly affected by policy help to shape it from bottom up.
Everyone in our society must be given the opportunity to live their lives as independently as possible and participate in and contribute to our communities. The Independent Living Fund helps those living with a disability to do just that and that is why the SNP Scottish Government has protected this fund.