A disabled activist who relied on the Independent Living Fund (ILF) to support her as a “games maker” at London 2012 has invited a cabinet minister to tea so she can explain the damage its closure will cause.
Mary Laver was one of the ILF-users who travelled to London this week to protest about the decision to close the fund in 2015, which she said was an “absolutely appalling” decision by Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative work and pensions secretary.
They then joined other disabled campaigners to cram into a court-room at the Royal Courts of Justice to hear an appeal by five ILF-users against the high court’s decision to dismiss their legal challenge to the planned closure.
The result of the appeal is not likely to be published for at least a month.
But Laver, who travelled from her home on the edge of Newcastle-upon-Tyne to attend the court hearing, said she had already lost two stone in weight worrying about the loss of her ILF support.
She said: “It’s my life. It’s the building blocks that give me the hours I need to do what I want. I am absolutely petrified of it going. I will just be locked in my house, just getting basic care.”
For seven days during London 2012, Laver used ILF to pay for personal assistants to support her as she volunteered as a games maker in the Olympic village, staying in a camp-site in south-west London every night because she couldn’t afford a hotel.
“ILF is the backbone of my life. The ILF made that happen and yet they are going to take it away.”
Laver said she wanted to meet Duncan Smith so she could explain ILF’s importance.
She said: “He should come and see the impact this decision is going to have in our homes, go to our houses, see us as people.”
Laver is furious that the government is closing ILF while giving tax-breaks to married couples and free school meals to children who don’t need them
“Let him see what my life is going to be and stop wasting money on things like a tax cut for married couples.”
But she is also unimpressed with Labour leader Ed Miliband, who did not even know what ILF was when she spoke to him at the party’s annual conference last month.
She said: “I was absolutely gob-smacked. It shows a lack of care towards vulnerable people. He just didn’t seem to be switched on to social care issues.”
Laver says that losing ILF support would leave her with just basic support, and make it more likely that her health would suffer through problems such as pressure sores.
She said the thought of losing her ILF was “petrifying”.
“I would lose all my dignity. I have a lovely bungalow which has been converted. I don’t see why I should have to go into institutional care. I want to go shopping and do all the other things I normally do.”
Louise Whitfield, of solicitors Deighton Pierce Glynn, who represents three of the claimants, said the one-and-a-half day appeal hearing went “reasonably well”.
She said: “One of the difficulties is that it is a very big deal to get judges to quash major [government] policy decisions, so it is quite a big ask at this stage.
“It is also difficult to get across what ILF means on a day-to-day basis for individuals. That is why it was useful to have a lot of [ILF-users] in court.
“Our barrister said that without the ILF and the personal assistants it funds, people would not be able even to come to something like that court hearing, and that is quite a powerful point.”
But she warned: “We need to change the whole political view of disability and you cannot do that in one court case.”
Gabriel Pepper, one of the five ILF-users fighting the government through the court case, said that saving the fund was a human rights issue.
He said: “ILF is important to people because it gives them independence and care. Care in this country has become a lottery.
“Personally it means to me independence, having a normal life, having care. I want to have a normal life. I don’t want to live my life in destitution.”
Pepper, who attended this week’s protest and court hearing, said he would emigrate to America rather than being forced into institutional care.
Anne Pridmore, another of the five claimants, said the court process had been a “very worrying time” for ILF-users.
She said: “People are waiting for a decision that is going on and on and on. It has been a long hard fight and we have still got a long way to go.”
And Gareth, an ILF-user from Richmond, who attended the protest and court hearing on behalf of the user-led organisation Ruils, said he would not be able to function independently without ILF.
He spent several months in an institution when he first became disabled 22 years ago, and remembers it as an “abysmal” experience.
He said: “In 22 years I have gone full circle from an institution to a life to possibly the threat of going back to an institution. I would be lying if I said I didn’t lie awake at night thinking about what will happen.”
It was ILF that allowed him to escape from the institution, a move which “felt like freedom” and “almost like a functioning, normal life”.
Now he has his own flat and employs a team of PAs.
He added: “It is ironic that ILF was set up by a Tory government… and now they are dismantling it.”