Campaigners have called on local authorities to turn their backs on policies that force disabled people into residential homes against their will and therefore “seriously threaten the right to independent living”.
The calls came after it emerged that Bristol City Council has drafted a policy that could push disabled people into residential care instead of providing them with support in their own homes, if that is “better value” for the council.
The draft document was highlighted last week by the grassroots disabled people’s organisation Bristol Reclaiming Independent Living (BRIL), which said such a policy could have “catastrophic implications for disabled people’s independence”.
But Disability News Service (DNS) has now confirmed that at least two other local authorities – Devon County Council and the London borough of Barnet – have had similar policies in place for several years.
Devon County Council has had its own Fair and Affordable Care Policy since 2015, while Barnet’s was introduced in 2019.
Despite it potentially pushing disabled and older people into residential care against their will, a local user-led organisation, Living Options Devon, refused this week to comment on the long-standing policy.
Living Options Devon thanks Devon County Council prominently on its website for its financial support and says it has worked closely with the local authority for “many years”.
But when asked to comment on the council’s care policy and whether it could breach the Human Rights Act, the Care Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a Living Options Devon spokesperson said it was “not in a position to make a comment”.
A Devon County Council spokesperson said the policy had been in place since 2015 and had been introduced following a public consultation.
He said: “It sets out how we ensure we meet eligible needs with the limited adult social care funding at our disposal.
“It accounts for preferences and choices and people can express how their needs are met. Nobody is forced into residential care.”
But he had failed by noon today (Thursday) to provide a link to the consultation, provide figures showing how often the policy had been used since 2015, or explain how the policy did not force disabled people into residential care.
Bristol City Council (BCC) claimed this week that its draft policy complied with its duties under the Care Act.
A BCC spokesperson said: “An equalities impact assessment for the new policy is being finalised and will be made publicly available once the formal consultation process for the policy begins this spring.”
Svetlana Kotova, Inclusion London’s director of campaigns and justice, said: “We are extremely concerned by policies like this.
“They seriously threaten the right to independent living, and they put the issue of saving money before respecting and upholding disabled people’s basic human rights.
“Policies like this can be used to lock us all up in institutions again because it is cheaper.
“Councils introducing policies like this just shows how fragile our support in the community is, and how it is more important than ever that there is a legal right to independent living which fully incorporates article 19 of the UNCRPD (UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities).
“We commend disabled people in Bristol for raising concerns and trying to fight against this policy.
“Disabled people in other areas must be vigilant and, if necessary, stand up to protect our lives and our right to support in the community.”
Fazilet Hadi, DR UK’s head of policy, said: “Disabled people should have the right to decide where we live.
“It is vital that we can choose to live independently in our homes and not be forced into care homes or shared communities.
“It is unthinkable that non-disabled people would have their agency removed in the way that some councils have removed the agency of disabled people.
“Councils need to support our autonomy, choice and control and uphold our rights under the Equality Act and the UNCRPD to lead full lives connected to our family, friends and community.
“It is our right in law, and it is our moral right as citizens to be treated with dignity and fairness.”
The north London disabled people’s organisation Inclusion Barnet, which first raised concerns about a similar cost-cutting policy when it was introduced four years, urged local authorities to learn from what had happened in the borough.
Caroline Collier, Inclusion Barnet’s chief executive, said she believed that Barnet council – which changed leadership from Conservative to Labour at last year’s council elections – had now stepped away from the policy and towards a new “home first” strategy.
She said: “I would urge leaders in other parts of the UK to learn from Barnet – it was a really unpopular policy and they have now stepped away from it, so I would encourage Bristol and other affected areas to reach out to understand Barnet’s experience of this.
“I would also say that they could save disabled people a lot of stress and uncertainty by reversing this decision sooner rather than later.
“Policies which deprioritise independent living are regressive and wrong.
“They make a lot of disabled people feel unsafe even when they are not immediately affected.”
Barnet council refused to comment.
Picture: Devon County Hall in Exeter. Picture by Google
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