UN’s international day provides stage for ‘independent living rallying cry’


newslatestA new report that reveals how benefit cuts are undermining independent living for disabled people is “a rallying cry for choice, independence and equality”, according to a disabled peer.

The launch of What Price Independent Lives, by Habinteg housing association, was among the disability-related events that marked 3 December, the UN’s annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD).

The report says that local rules for exemption from the so-called bedroom tax have created a new postcode lottery for disabled people, reinforcing the barriers they face if they want to move house, and deepening inequality.

And it says that two-thirds of Habinteg’s tenants who have been affected by the bedroom tax are disabled people, and only a third of this group had been exempted from paying by local authorities, six months after the new rules came into force.

Most tenants affected by the bedroom tax – which financially punishes those seen as under-occupying their social housing – were preparing to “stay and pay” because the shortage of accessible properties made it impossible to downsize.

The disabled Labour peer Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins, vice-chair of the all party parliamentary disability group, said: “Habinteg’s new research provides a rallying cry for choice, independence and equality.

“Independent living is a right not a privilege. The way in which the bedroom tax cuts the incomes of disabled people at a stroke and impinges on their ability to live independently is something that must be challenged.”

Meanwhile, the government used IDPD to announce that six professional institutions, representing architects, town planners, surveyors, engineers and facilities managers, have pledged to try to change their curricula so inclusive design becomes a requirement of all their accredited college and university courses on the built environment.

The pledge is part of the Built Environment Professional Education Project, which is being funded by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Greater London Authority and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

DWP said the success of London 2012 – seen as the most accessible Olympic and Paralympic Games ever – had “stimulated a drive to ensure that all buildings, places and spaces are designed inclusively in future”.

Disability Wales used IDPD to raise concerns about the impact of government reforms and cuts on disabled people’s right to independent living.

It talked of the “devastating impact” of the cuts imposed on disabled people in Wales through the Welfare Reform Act, and pointed out that disabled people were also facing frequent harassment and bullying.

And it called for greater access to centres for independent living for disabled people in Wales.

The theme of this year’s IDPD was Break Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all, and the English Federation of Disability Sport used the day to launch Access for All: Opening Doors, a guide to improving physical access to sports clubs.

The guide aims to be a “starting point” for clubs, identifying the main areas of physical access and signposting readers to further information and support.

The West of England Centre for Inclusive Living combined a celebration of IDPD with UK Disability History Month as it held an event in Bristol, examining how the perception of disabled people has evolved from the middle ages to today.

One talk, by historian Dr Irina Metzler, examined how disabled people lived in the medieval period, while another, by author and campaigner Eva Fielding-Jackson, looked at the birth of the disability rights movement in the 1960s.

Other events by DPOs included a series of workshops and talks around inclusion, organised by Disability North, while South Yorkshire Centre for Independent Living hosted a talk by Paralympian Craig McCann at its annual general meeting.

Meanwhile, a new user-led website endorsed by the world-renowned disabled physicist Professor Stephen Hawking was launched on IDPD.

Euan’s Guide, created by wheelchair-user Euan MacDonald, aims to provide venue access listings, with reviews written for and by disabled people.

Hawking said the site would make a “huge difference for people across the UK, giving them a reliable source of information to help plan their leisure, personal and business activities”.

He said: “There is a severe lack of quality information about disabled access in the UK, particularly services giving the end-user’s perspective.

“For this reason it can be very difficult for disabled people and their carers to find out where they can go to enjoy many of the everyday activities most people take for granted, such as visiting a coffee shop or going out for a drink with friends.

“As a result, despite all of the legislation supporting accessibility, disabled people are effectively excluded from many mainstream venues and activities, for fear of being faced with inadequate facilities.”

5 December 2013