A disabled crossbench peer has called on the government to introduce a “comprehensive” scheme that would provide the kind of “wraparound” support that would allow disabled people to live an independent life.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell called for a radical and comprehensive “access to living scheme” to replace the current system of support that divides disabled people into “unwieldy boxes of social care, continuing healthcare, housing or employment support”.
She told fellow peers that in the 13 years since a Labour government committed to a policy of promoting independent living and integrated support, progress had “ground nearly to a halt”, and in some areas was “regressing rapidly”.
She pointed to a combination of austerity measures, the closure of the Independent Living Fund, the introduction of personal independence payment, and “a lack of progress in the realisation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”.
Baroness Campbell (pictured) told peers of proposals developed by the Independent Living Strategy Group (ILSG)*, which she chairs, which include incorporating article 19 of the UN convention – on independent living – into UK law.
Such a move would provide a legal right to independent living for the first time.
ILSG wants to see a national access to living fund, bringing together the various sources of support into one pot, with the government reinvesting in user-led regional organisations such as centres for independent living, and helping to fund new co-operatives, social enterprises, community businesses and other charities.
Baroness Campbell said: “This would enable a hundred flowers to blossom, making for a strong access to living culture, and enabling all disabled people – all, no matter what their medical condition – to maximise their life chances.
“An access to living investment would foster the transformative social capital we have yet failed to realise under current outdated systems, which, in social care support alone, now offer only the top-down, survival safety-net services.”
Responding to the debate on behalf of the government, the Tory peer Baroness Barran said she would be “absolutely delighted” to meet the ILSG.
They were taking part in a Lords debate secured by the Tory peer Lord Borwick on the issues facing disabled people and the “potential for improved treatment and outcomes in the next 50 years”.
Another crossbench disabled peer, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, spoke of the continuing problems she faced with the inaccessible rail system, including “getting on and off trains”, the booking system and the frequent lack of accessible toilets.
She also highlighted the failure of the new Caledonian Sleeper – which has received more than £100 million in public funding from the UK and Scottish governments – to include any accessible showers, as reported last week by Disability News Service.
She told peers: “I am looking forward to a time when I book such a journey and push through the station in my pyjamas looking for an accessible shower that may or may not be in the station. I am not sure that anyone is ready for that.”
And she criticised the rail industry’s failure to consult with disabled people, describing it as a “travesty”, and called on the government to look again at rail regulations so that disabled people “can have the same miserable experience as everybody else”.
Baroness Barran said she would raise the points made by Baroness Grey-Thompson with the Department for Transport, “particularly regarding design regulations and co-production”.
The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas said it was “shocking” that the government had still not published its adult social care green paper, and she said that “far more attention” needed to be paid to the provision of accessible, adaptable and wheelchair-accessible homes.
She also said she wanted to see more accessible restaurants, cafes, shops and hotels, and “far more disabled people not just in employment but in positions of power and influence as local councillors, school governors, mayors, CEOs, MPs, peers, judges and, yes, government ministers”.
She said: “In 50 years’ time, life may well be better for all disabled people, but only if those in positions of leadership always involve disabled people themselves in what they really need and what really works for them.”
Lord Borwick suggested that campaigners were “winning the argument” for all new homes to be built to the Lifetime Homes standard.
Baroness Thornton, for Labour, said there had almost been a “perfect storm” of failed public policy on disability, including £7 billion taken out of adult social care budgets because of reduced funding since 2010, four-fifths of local authorities saying there was not enough provision of social care services, and a social care system that was “in crisis”.
Baroness Barran accepted that key indicators still showed “multiple disadvantages for disabled people, from poverty to educational outcomes, employment, discrimination, isolation and a lack of opportunity”.
But she said the government was “committed to addressing this across a range of key policy areas including, to name but three, employment, healthcare and transport”.
*ILSG has been working on protecting and promoting disabled people’s rights to independent living in England since 2013. Its members include disabled people who were part of the independent living movement during the 1970s and in later years, as well as younger activists, other individuals and organisations concerned with independent living.
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