Briefing on the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG)
The Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) was introduced by Minister for Health and Social Services, Mark Drakeford AM to help people with high care and support needs who previously claimed from the UK government’s Independent Living Fund (ILF), which closed in June 2015. More than 1,500 people are helped by the scheme across Wales.
The grant was only ever meant to be a short-term measure as Mark Drakeford wanted to give “further thought to three longer-term options to identify which one might best deliver effective support, despite the difficult financial position.”
These options included 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.
Substantial time and money was spent on a consultation that overwhelmingly showed support for either a partnership with the Scottish ILF or a continuation of WILG – anything rather than distribute the funds solely to local authorities and end the reliability of three-way funding between government, local authority and personal contribution…
The new Minister for Health and Social Services, Rebecca Evans AM, decided that the £27 million-a-year provided by the UK government to support former ILF-users in Wales will be passed directly to councils.
There will be no new Welsh ILF – even though such a scheme has been set up in Scotland – and no continuation of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) scheme the Welsh government has been running as a stopgap since the fund closed in June 2015.
Instead, Evans said that funding for WILG would continue in its current form through 2017-18, but would transfer to local authorities during 2018-19. All former ILF-recipients will have their support needs met solely by their local authority by 31 March 2019.
In addition, the Welsh government has not yet made it clear whether the funding it will transfer to local authorities during 2018-19 will be ring-fenced for former ILF-recipients, or even for social care spending.
Why we oppose this decision:
The Welsh Government said the decision was taken on stakeholder advice. The majority of representatives on the stakeholder group were third sector or citizens. Disabled people, their families and support workers didn’t want WILG scrapped and the key point is that our advice was not accepted.
It should also be remembered that closure of WILG is not inevitable, as is proved through the formation and success of the Scottish Independent Living Fund; which also works to support the Northern Ireland ILF.
Furthermore, the hugely popular Labour Party Manifesto outlined plans to set up a national care system to exist independently of local authorities.
This is exactly the time that the Labour Party should be united on such issues against the Tories. We must question why Welsh Labour are not playing their part in the changing political landscape?
Indeed, eventually it should be our aim to set up an Independent Living Fund for Wales so that no disabled person should have to suffer the same uncertainty and isolation as WILG recipients are now experiencing. We can only begin to believe that true social justice and equality for all is possible if Welsh Labour revisit their WILG decision.
In a written statement in February 2016, Mark Drakeford AM said: “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.”
To an extent, we sympathise with this situation and recognise that funding difficulties have their roots in Westminster. However, a strong government should provide for and protect those they represent, instead of washing their hands of responsibility of those in need while passing the buck to over-stretched local authorities and frittering millions on harebrained schemes such as north Wales metro. People should be prioritised over profit.
Welsh Labour will no doubt argue that we should give the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act a chance to succeed. However, this idealistic act needs hefty investment and resources to ensure it is a success. At the moment, there is no sign of any of the necessary improvements to our infrastructure that the success of the Act depends on. This may indeed be the time for a revolutionary change in the way social care is delivered, but such a transformation could take a decade or more and WILG recipients do not deserve to be treated like guinea pigs when their high care and support needs require long-term stability and structure.