‘Will you protect our funds or not?’ Disability rights campaigners probe panel during Wimbledon hustings

A disability rights lobbyist slammed today’s Wimbledon hustings branding the answers ‘useless’ as candidates wouldn’t confirm whether they will protect the Independent Living Fund (ILF).

Conservative, Lib Dem, Labour, Green and UKIP candidates were out in force to outline their election pledges to a packed out Trinity Church hall.

The audience’s questions centred on the ILF – financial support offered to people with wide-ranging conditions including arthritis, dementia, learning disabilities and spinal injuries, to help them live independently in communities instead of residential care.

Wimbledon hustings sign 2

The money was previously ring fenced by central government but from June this year the decision on how money is given out, and how much, will be passed to councils.

Disability rights lobbyist 45-year-old John Kelly asked: “The ILF closes in June, the ring fencing is only for 10 months, leaving debts in social care and benefits stagnating – what do the candidates propose to do to protect the fund?”

Green candidate Charles Barraball promised to keep the ILF as it stands.

He said: “This is an example how the current system fails. The ILF works, it’s cheap to run – scrap it and it will go to the council.”

Lib Dem candidate Shas Sheehan defended her party’s record on ILF, pointing to a Lib Dem’s councillor’s attempt to ring fence the fund earlier this year which was not backed by the council.

With plans in place for central government to scrap the ILF however, Ms Sheehan couldn’t say whether the Lib Dems would reverse these plans should they remain in government after May.

“I’m not saying I have the answers or I can give them here,” she said. “There are bigger issues at stake, equality rights and wider issues such as housing and accessible transport.”

Wimbledon hustings sign

Mr Kelly, a professional musician who performed at the Paralympics opening ceremony, said: “It’s scary, we can’t get answers – a lot of people are really worried about what’s going to happen in May.”

Labour candidate Andrew Judge said Merton has a direct payment scheme, which will merge with the ILF and other disability payments.

Mr Judge also said that the ILF would be protected, a claim disputed by former incumbent Stephen Hammond, who has won the Wimbledon seat in the last two elections.

Mr Hammond said: “I am very surprised to hear that. I had a meeting with last week with Merton council about social care and was told it was not ring fenced.”

Picture courtesy of Highways England Company Ltd, with thanks

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