Please don’t take away my lifeline

Published on: 04 Feb 2015

Cllr Michael Bell is supporting campaigner Mike Dring

A DISABLED man left paralysed after a road accident fears a shake-up in funding could see him forced into a care home.

Mike Dring, 42, who lives in Mangotsfield suffered a spinal cord injury following the accident in 1996.

He is a full-time wheelchair user but leads an independent life and works part-time for Bristol City Council.

He is able to do this because he receives financial support from an Independent Living Fund (ILF) which enables him to employ carers.

But from June 30 this year, the Government will transfer the fund to local authorities.

The move has sparked anger from disabled rights groups nationwide who fear the funding will be swallowed up in councils’ general budgets, resulting in cuts to individuals.

And further uncertainty will arise when the money runs out next April and local authorities are left to cover costs without additional money from central government.

Mr Dring employs two carers on a daily basis and has a pool of five people who provide ad-hoc services on weekends and holiday cover.

He said: “Being able to employ carers enables me to work three days a week and contribute tax and national insurance.

“My carers do everything - starting from getting me up in the morning, to preparing my meals and accompanying me when I go out. I rely on them to do even the most simplest of tasks for me.”

Mr Dring is urging South Gloucestershire Council to ‘ring-fence’ the money so recipients of the ILF continue to receive the same benefits.

Mr Dring said he believed it is likely the cash-strapped council will have to make cuts. “Potentially the authority could go for the best value option and care would be cut,” he said.

“I would not be able to continue to live independently and would have to go into a home. The prospect of not being able to live independently in the community is horrendous. It’s something I don’t even want to think about.”

In December Mr Dring addressed a council meeting, urging councillors to make a commitment to recipients of the fund.

“The threat of living an isolated existence, or being forced into residential care, is very real for ILF recipients in South Gloucestershire,” he told them.

Mr Dring is being supported by Rodway Labour councillor Michael Bell, although all three main parties have now pledged to ring-fence the money until April 2016.

Cllr Bell said: “I am 100 per cent supportive of Mr Dring and the other South Gloucestershire residents who are campaigning for retention of their ILF payments. It is crucial to their quality of life that our local council continues paying this money.”

There are 51 people with high support needs in the South Gloucestershire district who receive around £1million from the ILF to help them lead independent lives in their own homes.

They have formed the South Gloucestershire Independent Living Fund Action Group to lobby councillors and MPs to persuade the council to ring-fence resources for people who would have received ILF support.

Action group coordinator and Yate resident Clare Gray, 45, who has spinal muscular atrophy, said: “Our concern is about how it will impact on ourselves as individuals and the people we employ.

“All we want is the same independence, choices and control over our lives as anybody else. The Government is making a short-term financial gain but will end up spending more on people in crisis situations than they were on preventative services.”

A South Gloucestershire Council spokesperson said: “Meetings have been held with all recipients of the ILF in South Gloucestershire to make them aware of the forthcoming changes, review everyone’s care needs and explain what the next steps are and the time scales involved.

“We are currently carrying out social care and financial assessments for all ILF users to determine what level of service we are able to provide from July 1 when the transfer is completed.

“Further advice about ILF is available by emailing ILF@southglos.gov.uk”

In November 2013 the Court of Appeal quashed a previous government decision to close the ILF.

But a new decision to close the fund was announced in March 2014. Despite a second legal challenge, this decision was ruled lawful by the High Court in December.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has stated the closure of the fund “will result in loss of dignity and independence for many ILF recipients”.

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