My hon. Friend puts her finger on the heart of the issue, which is the high level of uncertainty. Let me quote some heart-wrenching comments from ILF users and their families. They illustrate the concerns out there very well:
“I am really terrified of losing my home and being forced into residential care…I have never been so worried and scared of my future without the ILF...We are locked in a prolonged period of insecurity of worrying what is going to happen. We are all only too aware of how hard strapped local authorities are and the temptation to use ILF monies for purposes other than care support for current ILF recipients…The current situation is greatly affecting our health with increased stress levels and sleepless nights a regular feature of our current lives. Not knowing what will happen, how this may affect the team of personal assistants we employ to support our daughter and whether we will receive any respite care once the fund closes in June only adds to our anxiety.”
Finally, a user said:
“I fear I will have my care time cut, and become a prisoner in my own home, unable to go to the toilet, go to bed, eat and drink when I choose—I fear my choice will be taken away. I fear being socially excluded and losing touch with my family and friends. I fear not being able to go to all the hospital appointments I have to attend. I fear I will lose my independence.”
That is the heart of the problem—loss of independence. The ILF has given severely disabled people real independence in their lives. At this point of change, and despite all the assurances that there have been in the system and the genuine messages of support from all the authorities, that concern is still very much there, and what is happening at the moment has not allayed the concern.
As those fears and worries illustrate, there is a real danger that attempts to save some money in one area, the ILF, will end up costing the state more in another area—the NHS. During the election campaign, when asked directly by one of the ILF recipients, the Chancellor of the Exchequer insisted that the Government would transfer all the ILF money and that there would be no cuts in their budgets. When pressed further, he made a commitment that money would be there in future years. So the Chancellor, who has been making the news today, is on the record on this issue. It is the duty of the House and the Minister to ensure that he keeps his word, so my questions to the Minister are as follows.
First, in the light of that, will the Minister discuss with the Chancellor how he intends to deliver on those promises, and will he report back to Parliament on the Chancellor’s response? Secondly, will the Minister be in contact with the 78% of local authorities that have said either that they will not ring-fence the money or that they are not sure whether they will ring-fence it, and are therefore are not delivering on the Chancellor’s promise, and will he take steps to ensure that they do deliver on it? Thirdly, will he ask local authorities to report to him on what contact they have had with ILF users in their area and what feedback they have received from them in relation to satisfaction with the transfer? Finally, will the Minister make a commitment today to report back to the House in a year’s time on the impact of the transfer of the ILF to local authorities on the lives and wellbeing of recipients?