Disabled people have a fight ahead of them to convince Labour’s leadership to accept the need for a universal right to independent living, say activists, despite the annual conference voting overwhelmingly in favour of it becoming party policy.
Sunday’s vote passed a motion that calls for all social care to be provided free – just as healthcare is provided free through the NHS – through a new National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS), and for that to be funded by national progressive taxation.
It says the service would provide a new universal right to independent living that would be “enshrined in law”.
NILSS would be designed by service-users and carers in partnership with local authorities and the NHS, and it would be delivered “as far as possible” by service-users.
And the party confirmed yesterday (Wednesday) that the vote at the conference in Brighton meant this was now party policy.
But despite the vote there is no guarantee that the policy will be included in the party’s general election manifesto, which will instead be drawn up through what is known as a “clause five process” (PDF, see page four).
Doubts about the party’s commitment to a legal right to independent living, as demanded by article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability, appeared to be confirmed when the party announced hours after Sunday’s vote that a Labour government would introduce only free personal care, and only for older people.
This would mean free support for getting in and out of bed, dressing, eating and bathing – but not for wider support that would ensure independent living – and just for the over-65s, as part of Labour’s plans for a National Care Service in England.
The policy falls significantly short of the demands in Sunday’s motion.
Two weeks ago, ROFA warned that Labour was on a “collision course” with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the UN because of its failure to accept the need for a legal right to independent living.
This week’s events suggest ROFA was right to issue that warning, even though many Labour activists have attacked Disability News Service for reporting criticism of a party that is not yet in power.
Mark Harrison (second from right), a ROFA member who helped draw up the NILSS strategy, told a fringe meeting organised by DPAC in Brighton that there was “a real contradiction” between Labour’s announcement on personal care and the motion passed by party members.
He said disabled activists needed to “move the Labour party and the shadow cabinet away from that concept of social care for the elderly and employing care assistants in local authorities”, and towards the NILSS strategy, which was backed by the disabled people’s movement.
He said: “We are having discussions in the next week with the leadership in the Labour party on why we aren’t grateful for their announcement on social care, why we think it’s not a very good idea, and what we should replace it with.
“Our challenge is to get the Labour leadership to adapt [NILSS] as a big manifesto commitment.
“It is a big, bold vision. It has to be in the manifesto because partial commitments to funding personal care for older people is not going to hack it.”
Sean McGovern (second from left), co-chair of the TUC’s disabled workers’ committee, told the fringe meeting that he did not believe shadow chancellor John McDonnell – who announced the personal care policy to conference on Monday – was against their NILSS demands but was “being pulled from different directions”.
McDonnell has said he will meet with disabled people’s organisations – including DPAC and ROFA, and trade unions – to discuss the situation.
McGovern said: “I think we have got a fight ahead of us. I think it’s a fight we can win.”
He added: “I do think we need to get into the people who are in positions of power.
“Hopefully sooner rather than later we can get a round table meeting with John McDonnell.”
He told the meeting that the social care system was “broken”.
McGovern, who works for Disability Advice Service Lambeth in its direct payments team, said: “The people I work with… they are disabled people like us, they are people who want to live independently but they are not allowed to live independently because they are getting care packages of seven hours a week.
“You’ll get somebody who has quite complex independent living needs will be getting 45 minutes in the morning, half an hour lunchtime, half an hour in the evening and maybe 45 minutes at bedtime, whatever that means.”
Michelle Daley (left), chair of ROFA’s international committee, co-chair of Independent Living Alternatives and interim director of The Alliance for Inclusive Education, said it was vital that article 19 was implemented.
She said the current system was not about independent living and offering a “decent life” but instead was “about people just existing”.
On Sunday, Michelle Pointer, a disabled party member from Aylesbury CLP (constituency Labour party), warned the party conference – in proposing the successful social care motion on Sunday – that social care had been “decimated” in the last decade, and that disabled people were “not able to live the independent lives they deserve”.
She said the new service should be “similar but different to the NHS but of the same standing”, and that it needed to be “enshrined in law for there to be a universal right to an independent life”.
Punita Goodfellow, from Newcastle upon Tyne Central CLP, who seconded the motion, credited ROFA and DPAC with the idea.
She said the UN had been “damning” about the state of social care and “the indignity suffered by millions of people in this country”.
She said it was “one of the most pressing and urgent injustices suffered by invisible millions”.
McGovern, who two weeks ago proposed a similar motion at the Trades Union Congress – which was also successful – told conference that social care was in “absolute collapse”.
He said the NILSS idea had been proposed by the disabled people’s movement.
Speaking as a Unite delegate, he told the conference: “We are calling for disabled people to have a universal right to independent living and a service funded through a progressive general taxation system and free at the point of need.”
He added: “Independent living is not a treat. It is not a luxury resource given to disabled people.
“Independent living gets disabled people to the start line of the race. Support the right of disabled people to enter the race of day-to-day living.”
Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, told a Disability Labour fringe meeting later in the week that she had spoken to McDonnell and was told that he wants a meeting next week on the NILSS.
She said: “That is something Disability Labour have been campaigning on. It is something that really, really needs to happen. A national care service is not good enough.”
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