Disabled people today are having to cope with problems that not even those who grew up in the segregated institutions of the 1950s and 1960s had to face, a leading disabled campaigner has told a conference.
Phil Friend, chair of Disability Rights UK (DR UK), told the organisation’s annual general meeting and conference that the challenges faced by younger disabled people today were “enormous and incredibly difficult”.
He said: “Those of us who grew up in institutions and were educated in special schools… I don’t recall us talking in quite the same way back then about the cuts that we talk about now.
“I don’t think my generation worried about not being able to eat. I think this generation does worry about what it can eat, if it has enough heating or whether it can go out. Those kinds of questions I don’t remember.”
He added: “These changes in the benefits system are having serious impacts on the lives of disabled people and many of you know this much better than I do.”
Friend also called for disabled people to be “strong and united”, and said it was “vitally important” that their voices were heard.
Sir Bert Massie, the former chair of the Disability Rights Commission and an ambassador for DR UK, told the conference that disabled people were for the first time having to defend the rights they had won, rather than fighting for new rights.
He agreed with Friend that disabled people had to speak with a “united voice”.
He said: “We need stronger user-led organisations and they need to talk with one voice. The minute we are divided they will drive a coach and horses through us.”
Sir Bert also warned that, because “disability organisations do not have the resources they used to have”, they were now producing far fewer briefing notes to help MPs and peers “fight back as well as they used to” when a minister made “an incorrect or inadequate statement”.
Lord [Chris] Holmes, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s disability commissioner, also spoke of the need for “collaboration”.
He said: “Stuff will happen if people work together and come together and believe that a difference can be made.”
He said: “It is absolutely possible to make a difference, not just consolidating what we have but driving forward, better educational attainment for disabled people, also employment rights increased.
“If there was true equality there would be two million more disabled people of working age in work.
“It is an individual tragedy but it is a national shame and we all have a part to play in that.”
Sue Bott, DR UK’s director of development, was critical of the stance taken by the non-user-led charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, which has campaigned for an end to 15-minute home care visits, although she did not mention the charity by name.
She said: “Arguing about 15 minutes here and 15 minutes there isn’t going to get us anywhere. What we need is a complete system change so that people have control over what they do with the core support that is allocated to them.”
She pointed to a survey published by the Guardian newspaper and the Department of Health, which found that seven in 10 people receiving home care had no control over how their needs were being met.
Bott also said that the Independent Living Strategy – published by the Labour government in 2008 – was due for review this year, but that as the coalition had shown no interest in reviewing it, DR UK was “going to do it for them”.
31 October 2013