Mark Drakeford AM

Briefing on the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG)

Briefing on the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG)

Background:

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…

 

November 2016:

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.​

 

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Written statement by the Welsh Government

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.

Keep on keeping on

So, the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) has been extended to March 2017. This is a reason for celebration and is the culmination of a lot of hard work by many people over the last 12 months to protect independent living for disabled people across Wales.

However, we cannot rest on our laurels and must start thinking about what we are going to do this time next year. We are still looking for a long-term solution to the problems that the Tories caused when they closed the Independent Living Fund (ILF) .

We also need to analyse the letter which was sent to Paul Swann at Disability Wales who acts as Secretary of the Cross Party Group on Disability. The full letter can be downloaded here:  Minister’s response to CPGD re ILFWILG.

As stated above, Mark Drakeford AM (Minister for Health and Social Services) has confirmed that the draft Welsh Government budget contains £27 million to enable WILG to continue until March 2017. However, it is clear from the letter that the current level of funding form the UK Government is only sufficient to maintain recipients’ payments at the same level as they previously received form the ILF. It does not cater for any changes in a person’s circumstances or any changes in the level of support they require. The Minister confirms that the funding provided by the UK Government does not include any funding in respect of administration costs.

The Minister does recognise that a long-term solution is required and he has confirmed that he hopes to be in a position to respond more fully with regard to the scheme within a month.

With an election on the horizon in Wales the Assembly Members will be preoccupied until May but this does not mean we can’t do our homework in building a strong case as to why we need a more lasting Welsh ILF system – similar to the ones that have been established in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

I intend on meeting my prospective AM and getting their commitment to safeguard independent living in writing, I’ll write to the Welsh national press to make this issue a political hot potato and in a change of tact I also hope to get back in touch with Ian Lucas, my local Labour MP, who has always represented me well in Westminster. I would like to ask him to press the Tories hard about the amount of money they give to the devolved governments to cover independent living. It is not good enough to simply pass on the same amount of money distributed in 2015 as this does not account for new claimants or changes in circumstances. As someone with a progressive disability, I fear that the time will come – sooner rather than later – when I won’t be able to pay for the hours of care needed for me to remain living independently in the community; The Tories must be challenged and stopped from pushing ahead with fascist plans that boil down to nothing less than systematic social cleansing.

Writing and campaigning is what I am good at. Back in December, I wrote a blog entry entitled Fighting for independent living in Wales in which I appealed for assistance from recipients of ILF in Scotland and Northern Ireland. I wanted their opinions and experiences on how their national ILF schemes functioned since the closure of the UK-wide ILF in the hope that it may prove an inspirational model for us to follow in Wales.

I received the following comment in response to my blog: 

Hi Nathan – My name is Charles Rainey and, in 2012, with my wife set up the ILF User Group NI, dedicated retaining the ILF in NI should Westminster decide to replace it. With the support of relevant charities and individual politicians we drove the decision to set up the current situation where users have basically noticed no difference going from one to the other. Send me an email and I can send you more details on our approach.

I sent an email to Mr Rainey and set up a telephone call in which I’d discovered that my new found friend from Northern Ireland had done wonders in setting up a User Group that actively lobbied for the retention of an ILF for Northern Ireland. Mr Rainey is an accountant by trade and deserves enormous credit for all his hard work in helping to create a stable future for disabled people in Northern Ireland. I wish that I could follow his inspirational lead, but I am just not cut out for all the paperwork and bureaucracy that is involved in establishing such a protest group. Therefore all I can do is appeal to any professionals with a conscience based in Wales to take up a similar challenge to Mr Rainey and help provide hope for disabled people nationwide.

On top of this I am also concerned about my own staffing situation. I currently have a vacancy for a personal assistant for 16 hours per week with every chance that this will lead to more hours. This is a great opportunity to work with a small team in a rewarding environment. Rates of pay are £7.26 (between 7am and 8pm) and £9.64 (between 8pm and 7am) and training opportunities are available. However, this position has been advertised for over 12 months with little response and even when I do receive applications from candidates and invite them for interview then I find they are far from suitable.

I believe this is a sign that we live in an increasingly uncaring society.

I guess this is a call for anyone in the Wrexham area, preferably female, with a caring attitude to read the following job advertisement and consider applying to become a member of my staff.

http://www.penderelstrust.org.uk/recruitmentDetailsPA.php?recruitment_id=5211

I don’t bite, honest.

 

Minister provides an update on the Welsh Independent Living Grant

TAKEN FROM DISABILITY WALES WEBSITE

The Minister for Health & Social Services, Mark Drakeford AM, has responded to a letter from the Co-Chairs of the Cross Party Group on Disability, Mark Isherwood AM and Aled Roberts AM.

The Minister confirms that  “the Welsh Government’s draft budget for 2016-17 contains £27m to enable the WILG to continue to March 2017 as planned.”

He adds that “I am currently re-appraising the options for long term support …and plan to confirm later this month my present thinking in this area.

“My officials have met representatives of stakeholders to identify the key information needed, including experience of providing support in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Options for a way forward will be identified by the middle of this year and will be available for the new incoming government to put into place in good time before March 2017.”

Minister’s response to CPGD re ILFWILG.

 

In Response: First Minister Carwyn Jones AM

I received the third response to my letter to the four main political party leaders in Wales from First Minister Carwyn Jones AM of Welsh Labour. I thank him for his reply to my concerns over the future of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG), which I have shared below.

***

Dear Nathan

I am writing in response to your e-mail of 30 November in which you expressed your concern over the future support provided to disabled people in Wales. You asked about the continuation of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) which we put in place to replace the Independent Living Fund (ILF) which was closed this year by the UK Government.

The Welsh Government is committed to supporting disabled people in Wales to live as independently as possible. The new social services legislation we are introducing from April next year, the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, has at its core the requirement for local authorities to support people who require care and support in a way which maximises their ability to live independently. Such care and support should be delivered in a way which provides them with the voice and control over how this is achieved. Never is this more pronounced than with the provision of direct payments under the Act, where we have extended the circumstances where direct payments can be provided and the range of people who are able to receive these. Through the Act, and the regulations and codes of practice we are making under this, disabled people in Wales will receive care and support in future which enables them to live in the way they wish and to receive the care and support they require to achieve this in the way they also wish.

With the closure of the ILF on 30 June by the UK Government, the Minister for Health and Social Services, Mark Drakeford AM, announced earlier this year that he was putting in place a grant scheme with local authorities (the Welsh Independent Living Grant – WILG) to ensure that ILF recipients in Wales continued to receive the level of financial support they received from the ILF before its closure. This was to ensure that recipients could continue to live as independently as possible in the community.

As he confirmed at the time, subject to the outcome of the UK Government’s spending review, the grant will continue to at least until March 2017 while he considers the options for the longer term provision of support to recipients. As a result of that review, I can confirm that the Welsh Government’s draft budget for 2016-17 contains £27 million to enable the WILG to continue to March 2017 as planned.

I understand that the Minister for Health and Services will shortly be engaging with representatives of stakeholders to identify the best way of providing support in future. This will be in the light of the public consultation held earlier this year. This is to ensure that future arrangements are in place for when the current grant concludes in 2017.

Yours sincerely

CARWYN JONES 

Bae Caerdydd • Cardiff Bay English Enquiry Line 0300 0603300

***

This is WONDERFUL news. The best Christmas gift I could have asked for as now I have it in writing that WILG will continue to March 2017 as planned. Result 🙂

Cynics might see it as a simple stay of execution and fear that I’ll be in the same situation this time next year. It is correct that such concerns should be aired and I accept that there is still a lot of hard work to be done to ensure independent living for all, but I take great heart from the protection and control provided to disabled people in the forthcoming Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. This Act “has at its core the requirement for local authorities to support people who require care and support in a way which maximises their ability to live independently”.

As I type the future seems a little brighter. I must keep my eye on the ball and continue to fight to secure long-term assurances for disabled people, but I  can now forge forward with hope in my heart.

I now have little option, but to simply observe developments in the run-up to the May 2016 elections and enter the purdah period – the time between an announced election and the final election results. The time period prevents central and local government from making announcements about any new or controversial government initiatives (such as modernisation initiatives or administrative and legislative changes) which could be seen to be advantageous to any candidates or parties in the forthcoming election.

This also brings me to the question of who I should vote for. I know that I won’t be backing the Welsh Conservatives or UKIP as I am not a fascist, racist, sexist moron, but Welsh Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Liberal Democrats all have strong appeal. Thank heavens for our complicated proportional representation voting system. Find out more about the voting system for National Assembly for Wales elections.

I can only have faith that Welsh voters are not as blinkered as their English counterparts and see through right-wing propaganda. Whoever I decide to back though, I have the opportunity to mull things over while living independently with dignity and contributing to society.

* I am not in the least bit surprised that the only party leader that hasn’t replied to my letter is the head of the Welsh Conservatives. I will stop typing now before I get myself in trouble…

Press Release: Disability Wales at risk of closure following funds shake-up

PRESS RELEASE
 
Disability Wales at risk of closure following funds shake-up
 
Following a Welsh Government funding change, as from the 1st of April 2016, DW will lose 68% of its income after its recent application to the Sustainable Social Services Third Sector Grant Scheme was turned down and risks closure in less than four months’ time.
 
Rhian Davies, Chief Executive of Disability Wales explains:
 
Since 1972 Disability Wales (DW) has received core funding from the Welsh Government’s Department for Health and Social Services to enable it to represent the voice of members with the aim of informing and influencing government policy. It has enabled DW to successfully influence priority issues for members such as Independent Living, Hate Crime and Access to the High Street as well as providing information and support to disabled people’s organisations around Wales.
 
Welsh Government decided to replace core funding arrangements to national third sector organisations with a new project based grant scheme called the Sustainable Social Services Third Sector Grant. The narrower focus of this grant aimed at delivery of social care services meant that DW as a rights and equality based umbrella organisation no longer fitted the funding criteria.”
 
Wendy Ashton, Chair of Disability Wales states:
 
“Losing the core grant from Welsh Government is a devastating blow particularly at a time when disabled people, who make up one fifth of the Welsh population, are experiencing cuts both to benefits and services.
 

In his speech to DW’s Annual Conference on 8 October, the Minister for Health and Social Services Prof Mark Drakeford AM paid tribute to the ‘impact’ which Disability Wales has had on the new Social Services and Well-being Act as well as the ‘exciting projects’ it is delivering including the development of citizen-led co-operatives to support people with managing their Direct Payments.
 

Disabled people form one fifth of the Welsh population and face higher levels of poverty than any other group of people with protected characteristics, a situation worsening by the day following continued UK government cuts in benefits and services.”
 
Simon Green Disabled Activist and Chair of Bridgend Coalition of Disabled People, a member of Disability Wales states:
 
Without Disability Wales there will be no national representative pan-impairment, barriers focussed body able to co-ordinate the views of disabled people and their organisations across Wales
 
“I think it will have a massive impact not just on Disability Wales but all the groups it represents including Bridgend Coalition of Disabled People.  Bridgend Coalition have benefited from being a member of Disability Wales for many years and if it wasn’t for Disability Wales we probably wouldn’t exist”
 
Rhian Davies:
 
“DW is in negotiation with Welsh Government regarding a short-term support package whilst a longer term solution is identified.  However, DW requires an urgent response and time is limited as we approach Christmas and the end of the financial year!  After more than 40 years as a national voice DW has less than four months to ensure its survival.  Who will fight for disabled people’s rights if DW is not there?!” 
  
Now the future looks uncertain for Caerphilly-based disability rights organisation. 
 

In Response: Kirsty Williams AM

I received the first response to my letter to the four main political party leaders in Wales from Kirsty Williams AM of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. I thank her for her prompt and detailed reply to my concerns over the future of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG), which I have shared below.

I have a lot of time for the Welsh Liberals thanks to the hard work of Aled Roberts AM who has been a dedicated and empathetic supporter of independent living for disabled people for many years.

Liberal ideals should be applauded, but unfortunately we live in right-wing times and are controlled by a bias media that dismisses or ignores ideas from sources other than the ruling elite.

I remain confused and uncertain over the future of WILG past March 2016, although it is encouraging that Kirsty Williams believes that the Health Minister has stated that he will continue the scheme until March 2017. This would give me a stay of execution and give me time to increase my campaign for independent living, but I won’t believe it until I get written confirmation.

In the meantime I look forward to receiving replies from the other party leaders soon.

***

Dear Mr Davies

Thank you for your email regarding the Independent Living Allowance. I fully appreciate the concerns of many people such as yourself given the uncertainty over the future of this allowance.

As you say the funding has been guaranteed until March 2016. However, the Health Minister [Mark Drakeford AM] has stated that he will continue the scheme until March 2017 and in a written statement in March of this year announced that if funding continues to come from Westminster based on actual numbers then he would consider setting up a permanent Welsh body to administer the ILF.

The Liberal Democrat General Election manifesto in May included a wish to “deliver Home Rule to each of the nations of a strong, federal United Kingdom by transferring power to control a range of benefits for older people, carers and disabled people.”

It is also our goal to push for improvements in the benefits system for disabled people, based on the principle of one assessment, one budget. This will bring together support like Personal Independence Payment, Employment Support Allowance, a replacement for the Independent Living Fund and health and social care entitlements.

Unfortunately of course we are no longer in position at Westminster to deliver this.

In Wales we will do all we can to ensure a fair and equitable benefits system which is administered on a Wales wide basis and not subject to any Local Authority “postcode lottery.”

Yours sincerely

Kirsty Williams AM

Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats