The equality watchdog has asked a barrister to examine whether there needs to be a legal right to independent living for disabled people, because of concerns that their rights to choice and control over their lives is being “eroded”.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has asked the lawyer to assess how independent living is currently protected by law and whether “additional protections” are needed.
The commission’s action emerged at an Independent Living Campaign Conference funded by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), and organised by DPAC and Inclusion London, with support from members of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA).
Ellen Clifford, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, who told the conference about the commission’s action, said afterwards that the move was “very positive” and a step towards one of the “key demands” made by disabled people: a right to independent living enshrined in UK law.
An EHRC spokesman told Disability News Service: “We have concerns that rights to independent living are being eroded and the legal opinion we will get back will help inform our position.
“We’ve asked the barrister to assess how independent living is currently protected by law and suggest whether additional protections are needed.”
He said the advice would “help inform our position on a legal right to independent living”.
Only last week, chancellor Philip Hammond failed to provide any new money for social care, or even mention it in his budget speech.
Disabled campaigners are also furious that the government has side-lined the needs of working-age disabled people – and their user-led organisations – from next year’s social care green paper.
Three months ago, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) called on the UK government to recognise disabled people’s legal right to independent living.
Stig Langvad, the CRPD member who led the examination of how the UK had implemented the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), said then that the UK was “going backwards” on independent living.
Clifford said: “It is a very positive move by the EHRC to look at practical ways that can be used to take forward one of the key demands made by disabled people in our submissions under the UNCRPD examination process, which is to enshrine the right to independent living in domestic legislation.
“It is a shame that the Law Commission and the Care and Support Alliance blocked attempts to get the wording of (UNCRPD’s) article 19 (on independent living) in statute when the Care Act was being developed and sadly disabled campaigners’ fears that the act’s well-being principle would not be adequate protection of our rights have been borne out.
“As highlighted earlier this year when Luke Davey lost his appeal against Oxfordshire County Council’s decision to cut his support package following closure of the Independent Living Fund, judicial review under the Care Act is simply not an appropriate mechanism for challenging unfair assessments.
“At the moment, disabled people have no means of redress against the removal of essential support and regression of fundamental human rights.
“We hope that the EHRC fully involves and consults with disabled people as they explore legislative options to address this problem.”
Mark Harrison (pictured at the conference, holding the microphone), chief executive of the Norfolk-based disabled people’s organisation Equal Lives and a member of Norfolk DPAC, called at Saturday’s conference for disabled people to set the agenda for reform, and define “what we need in order to live equal and independent lives”, including a legal right to independent living.
He said: “What we are facing at the moment is a catastrophe. That is what the UN said but that is also what disabled people say, with local authorities cutting people’s budgets by 50, 60, 70 per cent, and many disabled people having their social care completely removed in the assessment process.”
He said the only solution was a universal, legal right to independent living and a free, national independent living service, paid for from direct taxation, managed by central government, and led by disabled people.
The Department of Health had refused to provide a statement from a spokesperson by noon today (Thursday) after being asked by DNS to comment on EHRC’s actions.