Government sleight of hand on Disabled Facilities Grant

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This week’s announcement of an additional £40 million central Government investment in disabled facilities grants (DFG) is very welcome (1). But unless the investment is properly evaluated, there is a risk that the additional funding will not reach those who need it most.

The DFG provides small grants which support adaptations to the home to allow people to continue to live independently.

These grants seem to be cost effective. Speaking at the announcement of the additional funding, Care and Support Minister, Norman Lamb MP noted that “for every £1,000 spent through the Disabled Facilities Grant, the quality of life gains are estimated at £1,723 per year.” (2) The London School of Economics (LSE) Personal Social Services Research Unit, revealed earlier this year that investment in aids and adaptations could result in a net saving of £1.10 for every £1 spend. (3)

Government seems to have recognised the importance of the DFG with funding increasing from £56 million in 1997 to £180 million this year (plus the newly announced £40 million). (4)

Yet demand (and potential demand) far outstrips the funding available. In 2011, the Building Research Establishment undertook analysis of the English House Condition Survey, revealing that the total amount required to cover grants for all of those who are theoretically eligible under the current rules is £1.9bn at 2005 prices (4). In September this year, the BBC reported on delays in payment, with Newport council cited as taking an average of 638 days to pay the grant.(5)

In tight fiscal times, we must welcome the additional investment to a grant which has been relatively protected of spending cuts.

But, and there is a big but, not only does the additional spend barely scratch the surface of the potential demand, the additional funding is not ring fenced. In other words, in the spirit of localism, the funding can be spent as the local authority wishes. And local authorities are strapped for cash. The LGA reacted angrily to last week’s autumn statement arguing that “local authorities already face a possible £1bn cut to funding for 2013-14 on top of the 28% reduction set out in the spending review and the further 2% now announced for 2014-15.”(6)

So, the Minister announces £40 million for DFG’s. But local authorities, facing other spending pressures can use the money as they wish.

The Minister can of course act to ensure that the investment in DFG’s reaches the people who need it. He could find a way of evaluating the impact of the additional spend, alongside perhaps a broader evaluation of the impact of the DFG and its current administration. If central government wants to avoid the accusation giving with one hand, whilst taking with the other, this is essential.

David Sinclair

(1) £40 million for England.

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