Westminster

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.​

 

Some Party leaders come to Wrexham for Election Debate

On Wednesday 30 March I attended the FSB Welsh Leaders’ Debate at the Catrin Finch Centre at Glyndwr University. I have a rather exciting story to share from the evening, but I don’t want to share it at the moment because I do not want to give away my political allegiances before the hustings that I have arranged with Sheila Meadows OBE at the end of the month.

Until then, here is the story of the evening as taken from Wrexham.com

 

With the Federation of Small Business hosting the event at Wrexham Glyndwr University the debate itself was a businesslike affair.

First Minster Carwyn Jones was subbed by Edwina Hart AM, with Mr Jones having understandable business regarding Tata Steel. Mark Reckless of Rochester and Strood fame stood in for UKIP’s Nathan Gill, with the other parties having their leadership lining up as promised – Andrew Davies from the Conservatives, Kirsty Williams from the Liberal Democrats and Leanne Wood from Plaid Cymru.

Wrexham.com did offer to film and live stream the event, however organisers have said BBC Radio Wales will be ‘carrying the event’ in some form, so we will provide a link if/when we spot it, for now there is a summary of some of the points made and a few observations of the evening.

( UPDATE there is a 30 minute edit that you can listen to online, or download an MP3 of on the BBC website here )

The debate was fast paced crammed into an hour with topics focused on Welsh business and related subjects.

The initial question that dominated the first quarter of the discussions centred around the news over Tata Steel looking to dispose of their assets in the UK (More coverage on this can be found on Deeside.com, with the obvious Shotton interest).

The responses from the panel were along party lines nationally through today, with Labour stating it was not just a Welsh Government issue but global due to ‘dumping’ from China with a wish that the issue will ‘rise above politics’. Edwina Hart said she wanted to see a ‘fit for purpose’ steel industry in the UK as regardless of Tata or state owner it is making £1m per day claimed losses.

In a conciliatory tone the Conservative leader stated it was ‘vital’ that both the Welsh and UK Governments worked together, and that they were not against a ‘stake’ being taking in the business for a short while if it was so required. A ‘tit for tat tariff war’ was warned against, with a refusal of Chinese steel being linked to possible knock on effects to other demand such as Airbus planes.

UKIP cited the lack of protection from the EU over ‘dumping’, with Mr Reckless wanting the UK to stand alone to enable ‘anti dumping tariffs’. EU rules over clean energy were noted with new coal power plants being on UKIP’s agenda if the referendum votes ‘out’.

The Liberal Democrats echoed other views of steel being an ‘industry of national strategic importance’, explaining that Shotton appears to be the only profitable part of the Tata UK operation and concern over the lack of clarity to its future. Referring to the banking bail outs, Kirsty Williams said “We need to put our money where our mouth is” to similarly bail out the steel industry, saying governments spend money on things ‘a lot worse’ than saving jobs.

Leanne Wood from Plaid Cymru introduced a political fight, challenging Labour’s record saying manufacturing had ‘not been a priority for years’, pointing out that the Conservatives had been lobbying for China to be granted market economy status – a move that would it is claimed have severe impact on the competitiveness of the UK steel industry. UKIP also had their nose tweaked as their EU argument was skewered with it pointed out regardless if the UK was in or out, there is still a Conservative Government in Westminster so the policy on China would not change.

Another question was asked over divides in spending, with the implication the M4 corridor in South Wales and Deeside get a bigger bite at the proverbial cherry than other areas. The M4 is currently due to get a £1 billion upgrade, with a controversial relief road being much debated. The various black and blue versions of routes were mentioned several times leaving a debate in North Wales with a question over a southern focus bruised.

All parties noted issues with the A55, with electrification of the North Wales mainline or associated transport link improvements also being seen as important by all. The dividing lines were drawn over the implementation of spending, with UKIP looking to develop links with the so called ‘Northern Powerhouse’ in a geographically imprecise area.

Edwina Hart challenged the view on the south getting a better deal than the north, saying that us here in the north get more per head spent on transport than the south. Looking at Andrew Davies, she also pointed out that the limits to cash available are due to the Conservative party in Westminster.

Kirsty Williams said there ‘was life outside of Cardiff and Newport’ and favoured a balanced regional approach, explaining how she was from mid-wales and therefore knows how it feels to be ‘not listened to’ by Cardiff. Leanne Wood went a step further saying Plaid Cymru would entrench fairness in spending into law to ensure there could be no geographical bias.

Wrexham.com has covered the mystery over the ‘deal’ for North Wales, and with the Chancellor George Osbourne putting it on par with a £1 billion city deal for Cardiff (signed and sealed) it did seem odd there was no mention of it. Andrew Davies reiterated that a strong economy was required for growth, and echoed UKIP’s view to ‘plug in’ to the Northern Powerhouse, explaining how he sees more east-west connections rather north-south.

With only twenty minutes remaining the last two questions about inward investment, tax reform, business rates and business support were answered in an often tangential manner.

Leanne Wood from Plaid Cymru explained plans for Welsh Government to take equity stakes in new startups rather than straight grants, a system that would share the risk and reward.

Mark Reckless from UKIP said it was a ‘disgrace’ that the Severn Bridge tolls were to be kept under Conservative plans, with Andrew Davies from the Conservatives responding to abolish them would cost £15-20m and increase road use by 25%.

Kirsty Williams from the Liberal Democrats made the only mention of tourism, saying she welcomed more visitors and encouraged more to be done to promote Wales.

Edwina Hart from Labour spoke of her positive experiences of visiting classrooms and seeing entrepreneurial spirit from children however pondered when it was ‘knocked out of them’.

No large scale reforms of the business rates systems were proposed, with various tapers and reliefs being put forward by all to help business. Kirsty Williams did give a warning that any wholesale changes would need to be ‘very careful’ as her locality does not collect much in rates but gets much more benefit, and devolving collection and control to local authorities could exacerbate any finance gaps.

In what was quite a tranquil debate the only audience applause (and a whoop) occurred when Edwina Hart suggested that Andrew Davies’ Conservative Party could make large global corporates pay tax, presumably referring to the likes of Facebook and similar who paid £4,327 in corporation tax in the UK in 2014 despite making $2.9bn profit globally.

Mr Davies replied that more had been collected under the Conservatives recently than under the whole of the previous Labour Government, a similar applause then took place.

The event went well, with the BBC Wales host Brian Meechan conducting his work with a subtle touch, however after the meeting there was mutterings on the small scale of the event and inability to get tickets. One told us they had many interested friends who were unable to attend, with them disappointed the audience appeared ‘packed’ with ‘political types’ – we did spot a couple of candidates for various positions and members of their entourages sitting in.

There was a video link in place to Swansea, with one question posed via the connection, one wag after the meeting said: “We have a meeting about North Wales in North Wales and still South Wales gets focus”, although for those unaware of the M4 routes it would have been an educational experience.

Hustings arranged for the benefit of the disabled community in Wrexham

After a lot of communication via Facebook and Twitter with local candidates for the forthcoming Welsh Assembly elections, Sheila Meadows OBE and I have organised a hustings for recipients of the Welsh Independent Living Grant to listen to the prospective party plans for independent living and help them decide who to vote for on May the 5th.

Below I have copied the flyer that Sheila and I wrote that is to be emailed to those affected in Wrexham and Clwyd South. We are hoping that the meeting will be well attended as we have had confirmation that a number of prominent local politicians will be attending. Those that have been invited include Carrie Harper and Mabon Ap Gwynfor of Plaid Cymru, Alan Butterworth and Duncan Rees of the Green Party, Lesley Griffiths and Ken Skates of the Labour Party and Andrew Atkinson of the Welsh Conservatives.

The flyer reads as follows:

Future of WILG (Previously ILF)

 

Independent living is at risk for disabled people across Wales. In the run up to the May 2016 Assembly elections we have managed to arrange a meeting with local candidates about how they, and their party, plan to support disabled people if elected. 

Meeting to be held at:

Maesgwyn Community Centre

Lilac Way, Wrexham,

LL11 2BB 

Monday 25 April – 1:30-3:00pm

 

The Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) will remain in place until March 2017. A total of £27 million will continue to be transferred from the Westminster Government to Wales until 2020. How this sum of money will be administered is anyone’s guess. Should Wales establish their own Welsh Independent Living Fund to provide long-term security? Perhaps you accept the funding should come via the Local Authority but require assurances over ring-fencing? Whatever your standpoint, this is our chance to meet, discuss the issues and question the politicians that will influence our lives over the next political term. Don’t miss your opportunity to be heard…

If you have a question that you want to put to the candidates, or for us to feed back to the Welsh government, email your questions to either Sheila Meadows (sheilamdow@aol.com) or Nathan Lee Davies (nathandavies01@hotmail.com).

We look forward to seeing you all on 25 April at Maesgwyn Community Centre.

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.

 

In Response: Leanne Wood AM

I received the second response to my letter to the four main political party leaders in Wales from Leanne Wood AM of Plaid Cymru. I thank her for her reply to my concerns over the future of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG), which I have shared below.

***

Dear Mr Davies,

Thank you for your email dated 30 November regarding Plaid Cymru’s response to the UK Government’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF). Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to you.

Our MPs in Westminster have vehemently opposed this move in Westminster.  Our spokesperson on these matters, Hywel Williams MP, is particularly passionate about this issue as his brother benefitted directly from it and was enabled to live independently as a result of the ILF. It is a great shame that once again, the Welsh Government is forced to pick up the pieces in the wake of a UK Government intent on decimating valuable public services.

I also share your concerns about the Welsh Government’s response to the fund’s closure. Plaid Cymru has called for the Welsh Government to follow the example of Scotland and Northern Ireland in establishing its own scheme and this call was mentioned in the media. You can read about it on the disability wales website here. You can also read about this in greater detail, and about our wider approach to welfare support for disabled people, on our website here – although for clarity, this was clearly written before the decision to close the ILF was finalised.  

I hope this assures you of our position.

Warmest wishes,

Leanne Wood

Arweinydd Plaid Cymru ac Aelod Cynulliad Canol De Cymru

Leader of Plaid Cymru and South Wales Central Assembly Member 

 

***

 It’s no wonder I have a crush on Leanne Wood – she seems to genuinely understand the situation.

I am sorely tempted to vote for Plaid Cymru in May 2016 as the inspirational words and leadership of Leanne Wood make me feel safe and optimistic. This is more than I have felt under Welsh Labour in recent years, highlighted by their lack of decisiveness and clarity over the future of WILG. This inaction has left me feeling isolated, alone, let down and disposable as we enter the festive period.

In my book, Every Silver Lining has a Cloud, I describe my homesickness and unhappiness while living in Scotland. Six years after leaving the  Scottish Highlands and I sometimes wish that I still lived there now that the left-wing SNP have established control in Hollyrood and, amongst other refreshing and principled practices, have seamlessly rolled out the Scottish ILF.

I’d love to live in such a fair-minded society but as I’ve no intention of returning North of the Border I can only hope that either Welsh Labour wake from their trance and embrace the politics of their Westminster leader, or Leanne Wood and her Plaid politicians clear the deadwood and set Wales on a similar path to the one being blazed by the SNP in Scotland.

 

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

Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG)

I sent the following email to the four main Welsh political party leaders –  First Minister Carwyn Jones (Welsh Labour), Leanne Wood AM (Plaid Cymru), Kirsty Williams AM (Welsh Liberal Democrats) and Andrew RT Davies AM (Welsh Conservatives) – on behalf of the disabled community concerning the Welsh Independent Living Grant.

I will publish any responses I receive.


Dear [insert name]

I am writing as a concerned Direct Payments recipient who would like to enquire as to what your party would do to support independent living for disabled people in Wales should you win the forthcoming election.

Earlier this year the Conservative Government at Westminster closed the Independent Living Fund (ILF) across the United Kingdom as part of their austerity measures. This left many disabled people unable to pay for the care needed to be independent.

In England the ILF funds were given to local authorities while the devolved governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland received the monies to distribute as they felt appropriate.  Scotland and Northern Ireland joined forces to create their own ILF schemes – giving long term security and confidence to disabled people and their families.  In Wales we have had to make do with the short term solution of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG), which is not guaranteed beyond April 2016.

WILG resulted from a public consultation that clearly highlighted opposition to Wales following England’s lead and transferring ILF funds to local authorities. Instead, disabled people, their families and support workers want something special for Wales – a system which does not depend on the whims of individual local authorities.

As you can appreciate this is a pressing concern amongst the disabled community in Wales as many people – including me – are unable to plan for the future and are clouded by an oppressive degree of uncertainty.  Subsequently, I would welcome information about your party’s long term plans in relation to WILG and Independent Living as a whole.

More about my specific story can be found at the link below:

http://www.leaderlive.co.uk/news/149987/our-fight-to-fund-independent-lives-in-flintshire-and-wrexham.aspx#.VZu96zMTWf4.twitter

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours sincerely

Nathan Lee Davies