The way that a government treats those who have the least power is a fair rule of thumb as to its level of civilisation.
These are hard times, as evidenced by the nightly news. UK government “welfare reform”, public service cuts and other neoliberal policies have had a huge impact on disabled people’s lives.
The UK Government is currently under investigation by the United Nations for alleged breaches of disabled people’s human rights, as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People.
Here in Wales we are fortunate to have seen government with a human face. The Welsh Labour government has provided some protection against the worst impacts of ‘austerity’ cuts, whilst also putting in place a Framework for Action on Independent Living. Although this has yet to translate into real improvements to disabled people’s lives, it is certainly a step in the right direction.
In contrast, despite major concerns of a potential negative impact on disabled people’s lives, the UK Government handed ILF funding to local authorities in England, without ‘ring-fencing’. As a result, many ILF recipients are facing desperate situations as their funding is cut.
In the Appeal Court Mrs Justice Andrews referred to “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.”
In Wales the Minister of Health & Social Services, Mark Drakeford AM, held a consultation about how to best handle the ILF closure. This provided significant support for an option to establish a National Independent Living Scheme in Wales, similar to the Scottish ILF, which disabled people in Northern Ireland are also able to access.
Instead, funding was transferred to Welsh local authorities via the Welsh Independent Living Grant with conditions attached, distinguishing it from the arrangement in England. Discussions are on-going to agree an approach when the grant ends in 2017.
The Welsh Government adopted the Social Model of Disability in 2002. Whilst there is still a long way to go to implement it in practice, the social model, the Framework for Action on Independent Living and the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People have all influenced the new Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act.
This requires local authorities to concentrate not just on the wellbeing of citizens in a vague sense, but on individuals’ own interpretation of what wellbeing means to them. The Act places citizens’ “voice and control” at its centre and promises access to independent advocacy under certain circumstances.
The Act has also outlawed the notorious 15 minute visits to people needing support at home. And it introduces the concept of Citizen Directed Support, which aims to put disabled people and other service recipients firmly in the driving seat when decisions are made about their support and care.
Welsh Government has also just held a consultation on the recruitment and retention of domiciliary social support staff, which has a significant impact on the levels and quality of support for disabled people.
Whilst some local authorities may resist the new vision of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act, the legislation, together with its codes of practice, do contain the levers to bring about genuine Independent Living in Wales. To make this happen we all need to continue working together co-productively.
With independent living now firmly on the policy agenda, there could hardly be a better time to research the subject. My hope is that the DRILL programme can produce both hard and soft evidence to support and accelerate the current direction of travel on making Independent Living a reality in policy and practice.
Vin has been a parent Carer for his youngest daughter for 32 years and is an inclusive design consultant. In addition to being a member of the DRILL Wales National Advisory group, Vin chairs his local Access Group, helped found the Gwynedd Direct Payments Forum in 1998, is a member of the Coalition on Charging Cymru, Co-Chair of the Wales Alliance for Citizen Directed Support, and has been appointed to a number of Ministerial Advisory Groups and Technical Groups.