Media discussion of the crisis in social care focuses on the effects on older people and their families, who bear the brunt of caring when public services let them down. Yes, more older people than disabled people are affected by the social care funding difficulties, but many people don’t realise that the life chances of younger disabled people also depend in large part on those same stretched local authority social care budgets.
The government is planning to close the independent living fund (ILF) – which supplements the funding of independent living support for 19,000 of the most severely disabled people – and transfer the money to local authorities, where the needs of older people are already putting services under increasing strain. This combination of challenges to social care services is set to have a catastrophic effect on the ability of severely disabled people to fulfil their potential and use their talents to contribute personally and economically to society.
There are many examples of severely disabled people whose care packages enable them to employ personal assistants of their choosing to maximise their independence, and their ability to participate and make a contribution. To take just a few examples: without extensive support packages, Lady (Jane) Campbell of Surbiton would be unable to fulfil her role in the Lords; Alice Maynard would be unable to run her own consultancy and undertake her duties as chair of Scope; Katherine Araniello would be unable to produce work as an artist and film-maker, and Dr Ian Basnett would be unable to fulfil his role as director of public health for east London and the City.
With the closure of the ILF, and the acute lack of funding for adult social care, the tragedy is that today’s severely disabled young people are unlikely to achieve what Campbell, Maynard, Araniello, Basnett and many others have achieved. Local authorities now require huge financial contributions from service users for the provision of basic packages that can achieve little more than feeding, dressing and toileting.
It seems disabled people have had, for a few years around the turn of this century, the best opportunities they’re likely to have; equality and independence are now being rolled back, with a major loss of talent to our society. What should the government say to a bright young disabled graduate unable to save more than £23,000 towards a home of her own because anything more will be taken to pay for the “privilege” of getting up, having breakfast and answering emails? Or to a rising star in the academic world forced to turn down a prestigious university appointment because she cannot take her care package with her?
Disabled people can’t be economically productive if the support that enables them to live independently is missing or unaffordable. We all lose from this situation – we will all gain when social care is properly funded and provided on an equal basis whether you live in Maidstone or Manchester, Penzance or Preston. The government needs to get a grip – and quickly – or the life chances of disabled people will be destroyed for a generation.