Above caption: A brief summary of why WILG must remain & is so vital
It is rare that you find one particular issue where it is almost universal in terms of collective support; the public, party members, elected officials, the media, all other political parties in Wales…the list goes on. The campaign to Save the Welsh Independent Grant (aka SWILG or WILG) is one such example. This coming Saturday, on the agenda to be debated & voted on at Welsh Labour Conference, is the Clwyd South Labour party motion to reverse the Welsh government’s current stance of scrapping WILG in favour of an alternative form of benefit. To be clear, we are extremely reluctant to stand up to our beloved party, and while we have no doubt there are genuine intentions behind decisions made, the consequences of those decisions, and the potential devastating effects, means we have no choice.
Let us also be clear that this campaign, started by the truly remarkable, inspirational Welsh Labour party member, current WILG recipient & activist Nathan Lee Davies (CLICK HERE), on his behalf and the approximate 1,500 other recipients across Wales, is not ‘just’ a moral crusade it is an absolute necessity. Nobody would heap praise more on to Welsh Labour than Nathan himself, should our Welsh government have the humility and progressive thinking to listen to the huge majority, and reverse this decision. This would be a sign of immense strength from Welsh Labour and would garner huge support and recognition; as they deserved recently when, along with our MP Susan Elan Jones, we applauded the 15 minute time limits for carers (CLICK HERE).
Above photo: Nathan Lee Davies
At this point, I think it is vital that we hear from Nathan himself. The following interview was conducted with Nathan by Clwyd South Labour party Vice Chair/Membership & mental health nurse, Angie Evans (Hammons), who will be potentially speaking to the motion at the Welsh Labour Conference:
- “Nathan, most people won’t have heard of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG). Can you tell us a little bit about it?
The Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) was introduced in 2015 to replace the Independent Living Fund (ILF) which helped disabled people with high care and support needs to live independently and become fully integrated into their local community. The ILF was controversially closed by the Tories but I was grateful that i lived in Wales as I believed that Welsh Labour would always protect me and work in my best interests.
- How many people are in receipt of the WILG at the moment?
In November 2016, the BBC reported that there were over 1,500 WILG recipients. This number has now probably fallen to around 1,300 people with high care and support needs.
- What difference does having the grant make to your life?
The grant makes a huge difference to my life. It allows me to pay for the support i need to become an important part of my community. I was recently awarded an Honorary Fellowship by Glyndwr University for my work on disability rights. This would have not been possible without WILG, which has enabled me to employ the support I need to work with a number of important organisations such as Glyndwr University, Disability Wales, Care Inspectorate Wales, FDF Centre for Independent Living, Unite Wales, Wrexham CLP (Constituency Labour Party) and Wrexham Football Club.
- I understand that the Welsh government are introducing changes to the WILG, what are these changes?
On November 3rd 2016, the Minister for Health and Social Services Rebecca Evans (editor: now Huw Irranca-Davies) announced that the Welsh Government had decided to close WILG entirely and transfer all responsibility for the Social Care of former ILF (Independent Living Grant) recipients to cash-strapped Local Authorities. WILG is due to close on March 31st 2019.
- What are your concerns about the proposed changes?
My concerns have been keeping me awake at night since November 2016. I have grave concerns about this decision as it will transfer sole responsibility for my care and support needs to my Conservative/Independent Local Authority who are more concerned with their budgets than the welfare of the people they are supposed to represent. In 2015, a social worker visited me and warned that without WILG my hours of care would be reduced from 86.5 hours per week to just 31 hours. Local Authorities have a duty to ensure that my basic care needs – washing, dressing and meals provided – are met, but beyond this they have no interest in providing me with a fulfilling life. I would be merely existing rather than living the life I want to.
- What difference would losing the grant altogether make to your life?
The effects would be enormous both physically and mentally. I live with a progressive disease of the nervous system and I am in need of more support not less to maintain my position in the community as well as my human dignity. I have no desire to be parked in front of a television screen all day while society continues to function. I am already imprisoned inside my own body; I have no wish to be imprisoned by the Welsh Government. My hopes for the future would also come to an end as I believe I have what it takes to become a Local Councillor. I could not do this without the support of WILG.
- I’m guessing that this is a huge worry for you. Can you tell me a bit about that worry and how it affects you?
I have been fighting for Independent Living since about 2012 when the Coalition Government announced the closure of the ILF. It is a constant dark cloud hanging over my head that has prevented me from planning into the future. I have become an insomniac as I am constantly worried about becoming isolated and neglected by a cruel Council who have already tried to impose the bedroom tax on me and have recently introduced parking charges for blue badge holders. Disabled people are under siege and it has had a big effect on my confidence and faith in other people.
- A motion calling on the government to retain the WILG is going to Welsh Labour conference this weekend. Can you tell me about that and what is being asked for?
We are asking for the Welsh Government to rethink the closure of WILG. What we will be asking for is a preservation of the triangular structure of the grant between the local authority, the individual and a third-party stakeholder. In addition, the available funding should be ring-fenced in the future to ensure that allocated monies are used for the purpose for which they are intended. Clearly the well-being of disabled people should not be put at risk and the most vulnerable people in society should be protected not endangered. Quality of life is a human right for our vulnerable individuals, rather than merely maintaining existence.
- What would you like to see happen with the WILG in future?
WILG does need to change and adapt in the future. What we need to achieve is something closer to an ILF system for Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland both have their own ILF schemes. The most important aspect of the ILF was the help and support of a totally independent Social Worker who worked with recipients and the Local Authority in a triangular structure. All three parties had to agree on the package of care before it could be adapted. This is something that is missing from WILG and defiantly needs to be introduced as the idea of simply dealing with Local Authorities fills me with dread. If I have a problem with them, who do i turn to?
- What happens if the motion is defeated at Welsh Labour conference this weekend?
If the motion is defeated at the conference, nothing changes and the fight goes on. I will just think of more and more ways to keep up my pressure on the Welsh Government and get the message out to everyone about how the powers that be are washing their hands of all responsibility for disabled people with high care and support needs. One thing is for certain – I will not give up this fight until I secure a better future for all disabled people across Wales.”
As a member of Unite, and, along with various other groups, including Clwyd South branches and Nathan’s own Wrexham constituency Labour party, Unite donated funds enabling Nathan to attend Welsh Labour Conference this weekend. We obviously hope that Unite, and the other Unions, continue to support this campaign by supporting our motion when it comes up for debate & is put to the vote this weekend.
We are very grateful to many elected officials, AMs, MPs, officials, councillors etc, for their vocal support for the campaign and motion. Nathan’s own Labour AM Lesley Griffiths, along with Nathan’s Labour MP, Ian Lucas, have both recently reiterated their support. Ian Lucas:
“I support you Nathan as I have done throughout. I have heard no good argument against your case.”
Clwyd South Labour MP, Susan Elan Jones, was kind enough to also lend us her much-appreciated support:
“Tory cuts from Westminster make these very tough times for our Welsh National Assembly and local Councils. However this is exactly why I think we need a re-think on the Welsh Independent Living Grant. Devolution to local Councils is unlikely to mean a good deal (or indeed, in many cases, any deal at all) for people with disabilities. Our Welsh Labour Government has recently received much praise for the way it has ended inhumane 15 minute care visits, in stark contrast to what happens in England. Let now be the time for Wales and our party to go for a different system from England on the Independent Living Grant too.”
This motion has cross-party support with Plaid Cymru, and even UKIP & Conservative AMs lending support and fighting against this proposal. Welsh Deputy Leader candidate Julie Morgan AM also supports the campaign and has called for an “urgent enquiry” re scrapping WILG. We have had support from English MPs like Chris Williamson, many AMs, officials etc. The film director Ken Loach (pictured below) also supports the campaign, as do many other high-profile cultural figures like the poet & musician Atilla The Stockbroker, comedian & campaigner Mark Thomas, esteemed Welsh footballers like Joey Jones, Mickey Thomas, Wayne Phillips and so many more people from all sorts of backgrounds.
Above picture: Film maker/director Ken Loach supporting the campaign
To be fair to Welsh Labour, they argue what they intend to replace WILG with is still meeting the needs of the recipients, may even be better and that they have added some extra money while extending the impact assessment until September this year. They also say they have consulted interested parties. We thank Welsh government for the extra money to help transition recipients, however, we do not believe they need to be transitioned! Our response to this is to say that those interested parties, and most certainly the recipients, are really concerned that the decision-makers, while no doubt having genuine intentions, are failing to grasp what is at the essence of this issue. Nathan perhaps best describes this above; there is no way so many people, from so many different aspects of our own party and others, would be passionately opposed to the scrapping of WILG unless there was urgent case to take this stand; both Clwyd South & Wrexham CLPs officially support this campaign & motion. It is absolutely not something taken lightly, or normally something any of us would do in terms of going against the Welsh government on this.
Nathan has campaigned respectfully and remained dignified throughout. As he points out, and as the replies to our Freedom Of Information requests suggest, the rolling out of the current proposal will potentially have incredibly inconsistent consequences. There are a lot of non-Labour-led local authorities, such as Nathan’s own in Wrexham. The money they receive is NOT ring-fenced. Thanks to some excellent work done by Wrexham Labour member Georgina Gittins, we have discovered that the cost of re-assessing WILG recipients is potentially going to massively outweigh any specific monies received to do so from Welsh government. One then has to ask, as the money specific to the grant is not ring-fenced, and thanks to Conservative austerity having to be passed on, where are local authorities going to get the money from to do such re-assessments?
Here is a collection of responses to the FOI requests, in Georgina’s own words. As you will see, there is a very confused picture, with many believing the money IS ring-fenced when it isn’t:
“Summary of eleven responses to FOI requests sent out to all 22 local authorities in Wales on 19th March 2018.
- How much it will cost your department to reassess each Recipient in Staff training, Staff time and auditing of work, including dealing with appeals?
8 Councils didn’t know.
Conway said around 52K based on reassessing and transferring to DP, closing accounts and FAO and Brokerage and Contracts and Panel.
Caernafon said 100K per year based on number of staff contributing to reassessing and admin.
Bridgend have 61 people on WILG. They state they “haven’t had any specific training as the whole process is only just being implemented. Auditing and appeal process “hasn’t occurred any costs yet.”
2. How much additional funding will be required from the Welsh Assembly Government in order to administer the WILG?
6 Councils didn’t know.
2 had “small contributions” from WAG (welsh Assembly Government) in 2018 -9
1 had a “small contribution” from WAG in 2017-8
Cardiff said no additional funding will be available from WAG
Bridgend said they don’t yet know if any additional funding will be available for Admin.
3. If additional funding is not made available, will ALL administration costs be met from the WILF itself, possibly even requiring a Cap on the amount of funding available for recipients, rather than it being a purely patient-centred fund?
General consensus appears to be:
WILF money is going to be in the Revenue Support Grant.
WILF money will be ring-fenced.
WILF money is for meeting needs, not admin. Admin money will have to come from another source.
Bridgend clarify that admin costs will be met by the local authority less any client contributions based on financial assessments.”
The petitions Committee in the Assembly have also been looking into the scrapping of WILG. You can view the latest situation on this by CLICKING HERE. The WILG discussion starts from approximately 1hr 24mins in, and goes on for approximately ten minutes.
What must also be acknowledged is the need to focus on human rights. As Nathan says, simply surviving is not enough. Living is a different thing again. The following information is from a report done by Stephen Harris of Dewis Centre for Independent Living:
“Let us consider, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) Article 19 – Living independently and being included in the community
“States Parties to the present Convention recognize the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others, and shall take effective and appropriate measures to facilitate full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of this right and their full inclusion and participation in the community, including by ensuring that:
a) Persons with disabilities have the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others and are not obliged to live in a particular living arrangement;
b) Persons with disabilities have access to a range of in-home, residential and other community support services, including personal assistance necessary to support living and inclusion in the community, and to prevent isolation or segregation from the community;
c) Community services and facilities for the general population are available on an equal basis to persons with disabilities and are responsive to their needs”
Though the UNCRPD is not law, it does shine a guiding light to governments as to a way forward and a set of aspirations for the future.
Yet, one will recognise that the nature of social services provision across the country as a whole varies, it can often depend on the state of local finances as to how far a particular local authority can go in meeting the variety and depth of needs sufficiently.”
To reiterate, this is most certainly not something any of us Labour members and supporters want to have to do. But we do not have a choice. The responses we, and other members throughout Wales, have received from the Assembly have been far from satisfactory. We absolutely accept and acknowledge that this appalling Conservative government in Westminster, with their cruel, morally reprehensible and economically stupid austerity, are making life difficult for us all, including the Welsh government. However, as the almost universal support from all areas shows, we know this current position re scrapping WILG is absolutely NOT the answer and must be stopped. The proposals are not fit for purpose and not wanted. We must remember WILG recipients are THE most disabled people in Wales. Many of them have severe mental health diagnoses, and are potentially incapable of taking on what would be needed by new proposals, on top of having to deal with their health issues.
We cannot possibly emphasize how important it is that our motion is debated and approved this weekend. Really, we can’t. This is so vital. Nathan has a condition called Friedreich’s ataxia. This is a very unforgiving condition. Indeed, the average life expectancy is 35 years old. Nathan is 41. As he points out:
“I appeal to Huw Irranca-Davies to listen to everyone within and outside Welsh Labour; we are all saying the same thing. I do not want to be using what precious time I have left fighting against the hierarchy of the party I love and campaign for. But I will if I have to. Please don’t make me.”
In solidarity and with thanks to all who have contributed, supported, fought alongside us and continue to do so. We will never give in.