NCIL members vote for merger to ‘keep independent living alive’


The National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL) has taken a large step towards a merger with two other leading disability organisations, after members were warned it was unlikely to survive on its own.

Despite several concerns raised by disabled activists at NCIL’s annual general meeting (agm) in London, none of its member organisations voted against plans to move towards a merger with RADAR and Disability Alliance (DA), with possible unification next summer.

In NCIL’s annual review, its chair, Mike Smith, said the decision to aim to merge next year was mainly taken because “the present political and financial situation pose serious threats both to disabled people’s rights and to the financial position of our three organisations”.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, an NCIL board member and one of its co-founders, gave an emotional speech at the agm in which she warned: “Quite frankly, I believe if we do not do it, within six months there will be no NCIL.”

She said NCIL’s campaigning was “the reason that many of us have direct payments in this room today”, but she believed NCIL would be “safe” with RADAR, which had gone through “a phenomenal change over the last few years” and “will support us to continue our work”.

John Evans, her fellow NCIL co-founder, said: “My heart and my gut and my independent living background say we shouldn’t do this…we need our identity, but I don’t see an alternative given the financial situation.”

But he added: “Independent living has to be at the heart of the organisation and it has to be in the name, without a doubt.”

Smith said: “It’s not about creating one organisation for disabled people. It’s about making sure independent living as a concept and as a movement has a future and has longevity.”

Sue Bott, NCIL’s director, said the move was “actually very, very positive” and would “give us a bigger voice”, and added: “It does give us a better chance to support our members because we can bring in the experts and knowledge of all three organisations.”

But Julie Newman, acting chair of the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), pointed out that UKDPC had put itself in “special measures” three years ago and was now “strengthened” and “growing”.

She warned of the danger of an organisation setting itself up to be the only voice of disabled people and of disagreements within a movement that has “already been driven apart by conflict over the last 15 years”.

She said UKDPC would “politely decline” an invitation to join the coalition but would “continue to support NCIL” – which was originally part of BCODP, the former name for UKDPC – and pledged to “work alongside you and the new organisation if that is the direction you go in”.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, whose members have already backed the merger plans, promised the agm that it would be a “partnership on an equal basis”.

But Dr Ju Gosling, co-chair of the LGBT disabled people’s organisation Regard, said she believed an independent NCIL would fit the government’s “Big Society” plans better than a “big super-organisation”.

Earlier in the day, she had raised concerns that the merger could undermine the work of UKDPC, which is leading on work around the UN disability convention.

After the agm, Gosling said she believed the merger was “completely unnecessary”, and added: “I can see how it benefits RADAR but I can’t see how it benefits NCIL.”

But Sayce said the history of the disability movement showed how it had “come together and been united” at difficult times.

She said the new organisation would play a crucial role in influencing national policy, supporting local DPOs and influencing local decision-making in “very difficult circumstances”.

27 October 2010