Future Arrangements in Wales to Support Former Independent Living Fund Recipients
By Mark Drakeford AM, Minister for Health and Social Services
Members will know from my Written Statement of 13 March last year that following the outcome of the UK Government’s spending review, I was to reconsider the options for providing long term support to those in Wales who used to receive payments from the Independent Living Fund (ILF). These payments were to help disabled people meet the additional costs of living independently in the community. This is to update Members on the arrangements to provide this support in 2016-17 and on the potential options for support in the longer term that are being developed further.
The UK Government closed the ILF on 30 June last year and transferred responsibility for providing support to ILF recipients in Wales to the Welsh Government. To provide continuity of support, I put in place for the short-term a grant scheme with local authorities – the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) – to run until at least 31 March 2017. Under this, £20.4 million was provided to authorities in 2015-16 to enable them to maintain payments to former ILF recipients at the level they used to receive from the ILF. The WILG has worked well with disabled people who used to receive payments from the ILF receiving these from their local authority instead, with the minimum of issues raised. I must record my thanks to local authorities for achieving this.
Following the UK Government’s spending review, I can now confirm that the Welsh Government’s draft budget for 2016-17 contains £27 million to enable the WILG to continue until 31 March 2017 as planned. This is welcome news for recipients as local authorities will be able to continue to provide their payments next financial year at the level they used to receive from the ILF at the time it closed. This will continue to assist in their ability to live independently in the community. As soon as the Welsh Government’s final budget for 2016-17 is agreed, officials will issue grant allocations to authorities to enable payments to be made during 2016-17 on time.
Looking ahead the level of recurrent funding being transferred to the Welsh Government from the UK Government to meet this responsibility is flat-lined at £27 million per year. This is sufficient to be able to maintain recipients’ payments at the same level as when the ILF was closed. There is, however, no scope to fund a change in a person’s needs or for any changes in the cost of the support they require. Neither does this transfer include any element for the administration or set-up costs associated with the arrangements to provide support we operate in Wales. Such costs would have to be top-sliced from the £27 million per year thereby reducing the level of the payments we were able to afford. As a result, this level of transfer greatly restricts the options we are able to consider for providing support to recipients in the longer term.
In light of this, I have asked my officials to work with stakeholder representatives to develop detailed options for long term arrangements, beyond 31 March 2017. These will include the possible extension of current arrangements, a potential arrangement with the body set up in Scotland to provide payments to former ILF recipients there to do the same for Welsh recipients and, as in England, to transfer the funding to local authorities in Wales to bring ILF recipients within the arrangements for providing care and support set out under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 for disabled people more generally. Further options can be considered as they arise in stakeholder discussions, but all would have to operate within the £27 million per year provided for this purpose by the Westminster Government. All would also have to pass the test of maximising the proportion of that £27 million which would go to support recipients, rather than the cost of administration. The work set out above will be carried out as quickly as is possible so that the incoming Welsh Government can make a decision early in its term as to which of these options to implement. This is to ensure that sufficient time is available later this year and next to consider and put in place future arrangements so that these are in place in good time for when the current WILG is due to end on 31 March 2017.
I will, of course, ensure Members are kept informed of progress.