We must help the disabled people facing imprisonment at home | Frances Ryan

The government is scrapping the independent living fund even though its own research shows the terrible impact it will have

"Without support, we become prisoners in our own homes." This was the chant outside the Department for Work and Pensions this week, scrawled on a makeshift cardboard prison cell wrapped around a protester's wheelchair. "No ILF, no life," said others, simply. The ILF – the independent living fund – helps 18,000 of the country's most severely disabled people. It lets them hire personal assistants and live as adults in their own homes, rather than exist with clock-timed care slots or go into residential care. The government is scrapping it. Local authorities, whose social care funding is already cut to the bone, are lined up to fill in. Unlike the ILF, the money will not be ring-fenced, meaning there will be no obligation to spend it on current recipients.

This story might seem familiar, either because it is reminiscent of the other £28bn being cut from disability support right now or because it seemed, for a while, that the fight to save the ILF had been won. Indeed, what is happening to the fund is characteristic of this government's handling of disability and protest. It is not simply that the government wishes to take support from the citizens who most need it (as if we are at the stage where such a thing can be anything but horrific). It is that the court of appeal had quashed its first attempt to do so – finding the DWP had breached the Equality Act – but the government is going ahead anyway.

Ministers know the impact this will have on people who rely on ILF. The DWP's own research says it's "almost certain that closure of the ILF will mean that the majority of users will face changes to the way their support is delivered, including the real possibility of a reduction to the funding they currently receive". This could mean "the loss of a carer or personal assistant". Translate that as independence, or perhaps dignity.

Social care has already been cut by nearly £4bn, and this is estimated to reach £8bn by 2015. Nearly four out of 10 disabled people are already unable to eat, wash, dress or get out of the house due to underfunded services in their area. This is the system that the government wants to leave ILF users to. Over half the local authorities that responded to the government's ILF consultation said the move would either result in significantly reduced care packages that would affect people's ability to enjoy any quality of life, or in more admissions to residential care homes (this was revealed after a series of freedom of information requests by Disabled People Against Cuts).

"Before I was introduced to the ILF I was looked after by the local authority. I had no life at all, just a horrible existence. I didn't get out of bed for months at a time. I was not encouraged to take part in life with the children,", says one ILF recipient. "My care was extremely basic – to be kept clean, fed and medicated." It is grim reading. It should be. It's listening to someone recount how degrading their life was once and feeling they are being made to go back there.

The thing that stands out for me is that ILF is largely a young person's fund. Only 8.7% of users are over 65. These are people who as we speak are working, meeting partners, having kids. These cuts will be like trapping a bird that knows what life can be like outside the cage. Where will they be in a couple of years? It is terrifying how quickly laughing in the office and going to the pub can become staring at four walls waiting for your 15-minute wash-down. Join the fight to protect the independent living fund here.

• This piece was commissioned after a suggestion from BlackberryBlossom. If there's a subject you'd like to see covered on Comment is free, please visit our You Tell Us page


Frances Ryan

The GuardianTramp

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