For almost a fortnight chaos and confusion has reigned over Labour’s position on the ILF. There has been persistent pressure on the party to make a clear statement of support for the ILF and to clarify that they will retain it if they take power after the election, and people initially thought that Ed Miliband had finally clarified that Labour does indeed support ILF and will retain it when he spoke at an event in Staffordshire on Monday 26th January. Labour candidates tweeted that the ILF was safe with Labour, and I actually had a senior local Labour figure on my doorstep telling me precisely that a couple of days ago when I said my support for the party was dependent on them supporting ILF.
Sadly I had to tell him that this wasn’t the case, that the Disability News Service and others had been chasing party central for a clarification, and were instead meeting evasion - Miliband causes chaos with answer on ILF closure. We finally got an answer yesterday, when an email from Kate Green (Labour’s Shadow Minister for Disabled People) emerged in which she tells a constituent that it ‘is not Labour’s position to retain the ILF’. Labour finally admits: ‘We won’t save the Independent Living Fund’ That Labour were evading committing themselves to media sources, but admitted the truth behind their policy in an email to a constituent, looks like incompetence at best, and the evasion inevitably raises suspicions that they have things to hide.
The email does say there is a “real opportunity, and indeed a pressing need, to develop a sustainable model of provision for the most severely disabled people within the integrated health and social care landscape that [Labour shadow ministers] Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall have been articulating, rather than continuing with a standalone fund”, which is all well and good, but that is a solution that will take at best months and more likely years to have in place, and the ILF is due to be wound up in June, a month after the election. Nor does 'sustainable' augur well for the budget, it's often code for cuts to come. Even if we can trust Labour’s intentions, which frankly is yet to be demonstrated (and evasion by major party figures certainly doesn’t give anyone the warm fuzzies that trust is warranted) the timescale means that Labour needs to commit itself to supporting the ILF until a replacement in place, and make that commitment now. Arguably what Green talks about is no different to the winding up of ILF underway with the Tories, which transfers the funding to local authorities – integrating it with other council social care functions - but does not ringfence the funding, meaning disability care will inevitably be asset-stripped for more politically popular projects, and until she, or her boss Rachel Reeves, Shadow Work and Pensions Minister, or her boss, Ed himself, clarify the situation, we have to presume that ILF will be closed down under Labour in precisely the way the Tories have currently planned, leaving the most disabled of all disabled people with significantly reduced levels of care for a period of years.
DPAC are calling for people to email their MPs and to support a petition to Ed Miliband and Ed Balls calling on Labour to protect the ILF.
So we’re left with the bizarre situation where Labour oppose the Tories closing the ILF because they want to close it themselves. With such a mind-boggling position, is it any surprise that they have shied away from a formal policy announcement? And if we can’t trust Labour to be frank on so basic an issue as to whether or not they support ILF, how can we trust them on any other area of disability policy?