A new £5 million initiative – believed to be the world’s first major research programme led by disabled people – is set to fund 40 projects that aim to find solutions to barriers to independent living across the UK.
The Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) programme is being funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and will be delivered by the disabled people’s organisations Disability Rights UK, Disability Action Northern Ireland, Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales.
The programme launched in England and Northern Ireland this week, and will launch in Wales next week at the University of South Wales in Pontypridd.
Lis Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “This is the first research programme in the world which ensures disabled people, and the issues that matter to us, are central to research funding decisions.
“The aim is to build a better evidence base on the initiatives and support that enable disabled people to take full part in society.”
DRILL is expecting to fund 40 research proposals and pilot projects over the next five years, investigating how public money can enable disabled people to take part in society socially, economically and politically.
Some of the research will be carried out by the four national, user-led organisations, but most of it will be carried out by other organisations.
The aim is to carry out six large research projects, at about £100,000 each; 20 smaller research projects at up to £40,000 each; and 14 pilot projects at around £150,000 each.
Funding criteria will be decided after engagement events with disabled people, under the themes of peer support, autonomy, resilience, and social, economic and civic participation.
Proposals will not be accepted unless they can show the projects will be co-produced by disabled people and that disabled people will be closely involved in every part of the schemes.
Speaking at the DRILL England launch, in London, Baroness [Jane] Campbell (pictured) said: “I have been involved in campaigning for a high quality independent living infrastructure for most of my adult life. It was my first campaign, and it will probably be my last.
“For me, independent living – conceived, developed and implemented by disabled people –lies at the heart of our emancipation.
“Without independent living, we would never access our equality and human rights; without it, we would be destined to be dependent forever.”
But she said the impact of economic austerity had created “our biggest challenge ever”.
She said: “Economic austerity has decimated hundreds of independent living support packages.
“Disabled people’s expectations have changed immeasurably, and we demand a different social deal when it comes to our equality and human rights.
“Institutionalisation and charitable handouts are no longer an answer to our right to independent living, and yet there is a tangible danger that this could return.”
Baroness Campbell said the “exciting” DRILL programme – with disabled people “in charge” as “the informers, the drivers and the thinkers” – was “precisely what we need in order to understand the contexts in which we now live, and solutions to our future support and life chances”.
A national advisory group will include disabled people, academics and policy-makers, and will provide advice, examine research proposals, make recommendations and help promote and disseminate findings.
A central research committee – chaired by the disabled academic Dr Tom Shakespeare – will make the final decisions on which research proposals receive funding.
The first stage in England is a series of roadshows, which will help to decide on the programme’s priorities.
The roadshows will take place in Stockport (22 September); Southampton (29 September); Darlington (1 October); Essex (6 October); York (7 October); Derby (13 October); St Austell (22 October); London (28 October); and Worcester (29 October).