Government adviser ‘wary’ of legal right to independent living


A senior government adviser has dismissed calls for rights-based laws that would give disabled people a nationally-guaranteed entitlement to independent living support.

Dr Steve Feast, a senior health and wellbeing adviser in the Department of Health, said he would be “very wary” of writing such legislation and then waiting for the results to “trickle down” to disabled people.

Speaking in a debate on independent living organised by the disability charity RADAR following its agm, Feast said he was a “strong believer” in giving council leaders discretion in how they spend their money.

And he said he believed there should be a move away from “big government” and towards flexibility, local innovation, “empowered individuals” and a “needs-based approach”.

But Caroline Ellis, joint deputy chief executive of RADAR, said legislation was needed so that “your ability to live a dignified life…to raise your kids, to love, learn, live and work” was not dependent on your local council.

She said such rights were “far too important to leave to local discretion” and that she had been “really struck with the number of people I have met recently who have had their care packages slashed”.

She added: “We are fed up to the back teeth of postcode lotteries and we are certainly fed up of professionals telling us what we need and how we should be living our lives.”

Disability consultant Haqeeq Bostan said disabled people’s organisations need to show they can deliver services themselves, with ring-fenced funding from central government.

Otherwise, he warned, “we will face fundamental cuts in the services we receive, in the support we have and the means to make the choices we want to”.

The motion they were debating stated that the government’s “vision for social care and support” would only be delivered through “rights-based legislation extending national entitlements” and that relying on local decision-making was a “recipe for disaster”.

Only Feast and Hackney councillor Nargis Khan – who also spoke opposing the motion – voted against it, while 25 people voted in favour and there were eight abstensions.

The debate took place just four days before Lord Ashley’s independent living bill – a private members’ bill that would give disabled people a legal right to independent living – was due to receive its second reading in the Commons.

12 October 2009