Devolving the axe? The ILF will now be funded by local authorities. Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

"I'll be a prisoner in my own home" - the cruellest cut of all is just around the corner

The Independent Living Fund has transformed the lives of the disabled people who use it. But now it's under threat. 

You might not have heard of it, but for around 18,000 of the most severely disabled people in Britain, the Independent Living Fund means the difference between an ordinary life and no life at all. ''No ILF. No Life'' is how disability rights campaigners put it. Set up in 1988 by Margaret Thatcher's government, it is designed for people with high support needs to live in the community and to lead the sort of lives the rest of us take for granted, people who would otherwise be trapped in residential homes. But at the end of this month, after 27 years, this fund will be no more. The consequences for its recipients could be nothing short of devastating.

Before receiving support from the ILF, life was ''hell on earth'' for Anne Pridmore, 75, from Leicestershire. Anne has cerebral palsy and is unable to walk at all. She has 24/7 support needs, needing assistance to wash, dress, cook, and go to the toilet. With ILF support, she has been able to build a life and career for herself – setting up ''Being the Boss'', a consultation service for disabled people.  Over half of the funding for Anne's personal assistants comes from the ILF. Without it, she is worried she will be left using incontinence pads for much of the day. ''I suffer from breaking of the skin. If I had an incontinence pad I would end up in hospital for a skin graft'', she said to me. ''I will lose my support and will become a prisoner in my own home or be forced into residential care... We have gone back 30 years with [Cameron]''.

Similar fears plague on Sean McGovern, 58, from Lambeth, South London. ''For me it's a life-saver. There are a thousand and one activities which I can get on with which I would not be able to on my local authority budget.''  Sean is left-hemiplegic – unable to use the whole of the left side of his body after a physical assault by a gang. Despite needing a wheelchair, he is physically fit, saying the ILF allows him to go swimming regularly. Like Anne, he worries about toileting: ''If I have an accident in the night and my PA comes round to clean up the bed, that's when I use ILF money.'' Sean is an active campaigner, sitting on the TUC's disabled workers' committee, but he says it ''would be very difficult without ILF, almost impossible. I need PAs with me when I travel.'' Sean quotes the great US labour-organizer Rose Schneiderman, saying ''Yes we need bread, but we also need roses'', saying it allows him to ''Go to the pub. Go to the theatre, cinema. Visit your family and friends'', adding ''ILF gave us that freedom... It will cause massive social isolation''.

With ILF support, Sophie Partridge, 46, has managed to develop a career as a creative performer, having performed with theatre workshops at the Edinburgh Festival. This is no mean feat for her – born with brittle bone syndrome, Sophie has severely foreshortened limbs. ''My big fear is losing my personal assistants at night,” she says. “It doesn't bear thinking about''. Sophie explains that she would not be able to work as a performer without the 24 hour care ILF provides. Sophie is luckier than most, though, living within the affluent and sympathetic local authority of Islington in London. ''It's a postcode lottery',' she says.

''Before ILF days, most people of my level of support needs were in residential homes... I can't go there in my head really,” Sophie says. Panic and uncertainty about institutionalization is widespread. Ellen Clifford, campaigns officer for Inclusion London, says ''One of the biggest issues will be people just sitting at home, isolated and neglected... A lot of the ILF users we speak to say I'd rather be dead than go to a nursing or residential home...people are scared, really really scared''.

In 2010, the ILF was closed to new applicants. Inevitably, there are now hundreds of severely disabled people around the country who need the support but were not able to apply. One disabled student who missed out on the ILF explained to Inclusion London: ''My mum had to help with my care at the weekends to give my PA a break. This was frustrating for my mum and I because she had to drive down to the university every weekend, when she [was] also the main carer for my Grandmother who has dementia.'' The budget for ILF will now fall each year because of ''natural attrition'' – the government's euphemism for people dying off. Eventually, there will be no recipients at all.

Costing central government some £262 million a year across the country – pocket change in government terms – any pretence that this cut is necessary for dealing with the deficit is bogus. Indeed, central government administration costs – at roughly 2% - are significantly below those of local authorities at 16%, who will now pick up the bill. But perhaps most bizarrely, the ILF is very labour-intensive, with almost all the money paying the wages of personal assistants. ''I am employing seven people here – they all have spending power, paying taxes'', Anne Pridmore told me. A cheap, effective way to stimulate local economies. Not just cruel and heartless, but utterly economically misguided too. ''Friends and family will have an extra burden'' as a result, says Ellen Clifford. 

The government say they're not cutting the fund, they are merely transferring the fund to local authorities. What the government does not admit is that this is only for one year, and that the fund has not been ring-fenced. With local authorities in England having endured cuts of 27% over the first five years of Cameron's premiership, local authorities will struggle to cover the shortfall. Ellen Clifford told me that of 141 councils surveyed, only 33 have ring-fenced it. ''The Care Act brings in the wellbeing duty... But that's obviously open to wide interpretation. And if they are worried about their resources...”

Fighting back is no easy task for people like Anne, Sophie, and Sean. ''For disabled people to get to London is a big ordeal,'' Anne Pridmore explains. But fightback they have. Disabled People Against Cuts even took the radical step of taking the government to court claiming the government were not aware of the impact on disabled people when the decision to close ILF was taken. Almost unbelievably, the case was thrown out, not on the grounds that the minister did not know, but that the minister knew it would be devastating - but went ahead anyway. ''The information provided to the minister identified in sufficiently unambiguous terms the inevitable and considerable adverse effect which the closure of the fund will have, particularly on those who, as a consequence, will lose the ability to live independently.'' said Mrs Justice Andrews. With the appointment of Justin Tomlinson as Minister for Disabled People, Ellen Clifford says, ''it's as if they've deliberately gone for someone as unsympathetic to disabled people as possible.''

On the 24th June, DPAC will meet with MPs to highlight the plight of those set to lose ILF support. Those of us with the physical means have a responsibility to show solidarity with the victims of ILF's closure, and to send a strong message to Cameron's government about the sort of country we want to live in. The independence and wellbeing of Anne, Sophie, Sean and thousands of others depends on it.

Getty
Show Hide image

Stop saying identity politics caused Trump

It's a wildly unsophisticated analysis that ignores the fact that all politics is inflected by identity.

Look, I don't mean to be funny, but is there something in the water supply? When Mark Lilla wrote his jeremiad against "identity liberalism" in the New York Times, it was comprehensively picked over and rebutted. But this zombie take has risen again. In the last 24 hours, all these tweets have drifted across my timeline:

And then this (now deleted, I think, probably because I was mean about it on Twitter).

And finally, for the hat-trick . . .

Isn't it beautiful to see a Blairite, a Liberal Leaver and a Corbynite come together like this? Maybe there is a future for cross-spectrum, consensual politics in this country.

These are all versions of a criticism which has swilled around since Bernie Sanders entered the US presidential race, and ran on a platform of economic populism. They have been turbocharged by Sanders' criticisms since the result, where he blamed Clinton's loss on her attempt to carve up the electorate into narrow groups. And they are now repeated ad nauseam by anyone wanting to sound profound: what if, like, Black Lives Matter are the real racists, yeah? Because they talk about race all the time.

This glib analysis has the logical endpoint that if only people didn't point out racism or sexism or homophobia, those things would be less of a problem. Talking about them is counterproductive, because it puts people's backs up (for a given definition of "people"). She who smelt it, dealt it.

Now, I have strong criticisms of what I would call Pure Identity Politics, unmoored from economics or structural concerns. I have trouble with the idea of Caitlyn Jenner as an "LGBT icon", given her longstanding opposition to gay marriage and her support for an administration whose vice-president appears to think you can electrocute the gay out of people. I celebrate female leaders even if I don't agree with their politics, because there shouldn't be an additional Goodness Test which women have to pass to be deemed worthy of the same opportunities as men. But I don't think feminism's job is done when there are simply a few more female CEOs or political leaders, particularly if (as is now the case) those women are more likely than their male peers to be childless. Role models only get you so far. Structures are important too.

I also think there are fair criticisms to be made of the Clinton campaign, which was brave - or foolish, depending on your taste - to associate her so explicitly with progressive causes. Stephen Bush and I have talked on the podcast about how hard Barack Obama worked to reassure White America that he wasn't threatening, earning himself the ire of the likes of Cornel West. Hillary Clinton was less mindful of the feelings of both White America and Male America, running an advert explicitly addressed to African-Americans, and using (as James Morris pointed out to me on Twitter) the slogan "I'm With Her". 

Watching back old Barack Obama clips (look, everyone needs a hobby), it's notable how many times he stressed the "united" in "united states of America". It felt as though he was trying to usher in a post-racial age by the sheer force of his rhetoric. 

As Obama told Ta-Nehisi Coates during his last days in office, he thought deeply about how to appeal to all races: 

"How do I pull all these different strains together: Kenya and Hawaii and Kansas, and white and black and Asian—how does that fit? And through action, through work, I suddenly see myself as part of the bigger process for, yes, delivering justice for the [African American community] and specifically the South Side community, the low-income people—justice on behalf of the African American community. But also thereby promoting my ideas of justice and equality and empathy that my mother taught me were universal. So I’m in a position to understand those essential parts of me not as separate and apart from any particular community but connected to every community."

Clinton's mistake was perhaps that she thought this caution was no longer needed.

So there are criticisms of "identity politics" that I accept, even as I wearily feel that - like "neoliberalism" - it has become a bogeyman, a dumpster for anything that people don't like but don't care to articulate more fully.

But there are caveats, and very good reasons why anyone pretending to a sophisticated analysis of politics shouldn't say that "identity politics caused Trump".

The first is that if you have an identity that any way marks you out from the norm, you can't change that. Hillary Clinton couldn't not be the first woman candidate from a major party running for the US presidency. She either had to embrace it, or downplay it. Donald Trump faced no such decision. 

The second is that, actually, Clinton didn't run an explicitly identity-focused campaign on the ground, at least not in terms of her being a woman. Through the prism of the press, and because of the rubbernecker's dream that is misogyny on social media, her gender inevitably loomed large. But as Rebecca Solnit wrote in the LRB:

"The Vox journalist David Roberts did a word-frequency analysis on Clinton’s campaign speeches and concluded that she mostly talked about workers, jobs, education and the economy, exactly the things she was berated for neglecting. She mentioned jobs almost 600 times, racism, women’s rights and abortion a few dozen times each. But she was assumed to be talking about her gender all the time, though it was everyone else who couldn’t shut up about it."

My final problem with the "identity politics caused Trump" argument is that it assumes that explicit appeals to whiteness and masculinity are not identity politics. That calling Mexicans "rapists" and promising to build a wall to keep them out is not identity politics. That promising to "make America great again" at the expense of the Chinese or other trading partners is not identity politics. That selling a candidate as an unreconstructed alpha male is not identity politics. When you put it that way, I do accept that identity politics caused Trump. But I'm guessing that's not what people mean when they criticise identity politics. 

Let's be clear: America is a country built on identity politics. The "all men" who were created equal notably excluded a huge number of Americans. Jim Crow laws were nothing if not identity politics. The electoral college was instituted to benefit southern slave-owners. This year's voting restrictions disproportionately affected populations which lean Democrat. There is no way to fight this without prompting a backlash: that's what happens when you demand that the privileged give up some of their perks. 

I don't know what the "identity politics caused Trump" guys want gay rights campaigners, anti-racism activists or feminists to do. Those on the left, like Richard Burgon, seem to want a "no war but the class war" approach, which would be all very well if race and gender didn't intersect with economics (the majority of unpaid care falls squarely on women; in the US, black households have far fewer assets than white ones.)

Those on the right, like Daniel Hannan, seem to just want people banging on about racism and homophobia to shut up because he, personally, finds it boring. Perhaps they don't know any old English poetry with which to delight their followers instead. (Actually, I think Hannan might have hit on an important psychological factor in some of these critiques: when conversations centre on anti-racism, feminism and other identity movements, white men don't benefit from their usual unearned assumption of expertise in the subject at hand. No wonder they find discussion of them boring.)

Both of these criticisms end up in the same place. Pipe down, ladies. By complaining, you're only making it worse. Hush now, Black Lives Matter: white people find your message alienating. We'll sort out police racism... well, eventually. Probably. Just hold tight and see how it goes. Look, gay people, could you be a trifle... less gay? It's distracting.

I'm here all day for a discussion about the best tactics for progressive campaigners to use. I'm sympathetic to the argument that furious tweets, and even marches, have limited effect compared with other types of resistance.

But I can't stand by while a candidate wins on an identity-based platform, in a political system shaped by identity, and it's apparently the fault of the other side for talking too much about identity.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.