A new group of disabled people and allies in Bristol has been set up to “reclaim the true meaning of independent living”.
Bristol Reclaiming Independent Living (BRIL), which launched this week, is determined to remind the government and others in positions of power that the principles of independent living, which were developed and fought for by disabled people, are being eroded.
The roots of BRIL were in the fight to save the Independent Living Fund, and members this week remembered one of that campaign’s key members, Daphne Branchflower (pictured, left, at a previous independent living event), who died in May, and who had supported BRIL’s development.
They heard at the launch that many disabled people were afraid to speak out about the social care crisis for fear of repercussions from local authorities and service-providers, while many did not have the support they needed to speak out.
BRIL’s founders believe that phrases like “choice and control” and “independent living” are being used to justify regressive policies, such as cuts to social care, while the Care Act had not produced the promised “level playing field” across different local authorities.
If anything, the meeting heard, the postcode lottery in support had increased since the act became law in 2014.
Disabled people and relatives at the launch meeting agreed that phrases like “independent living” and “person-centred” had been hijacked and used to justify the removal of support.
They also agreed that independent living was not just about social care, but was also about human rights, connections with other people, and being able to live a good life.
BRIL is supporting the aims of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), which has produced proposals for a new National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS).
The NILSS would run alongside the NHS, and would provide a universal right to independent living, with support provided free at the point of need, funded by general taxation, managed by central government, and delivered locally in co-production with disabled people.
BRIL believes that, without such a radical rethink on social care, the achievements fought for by the disabled people’s movement will be “worn away”.
Mark Williams (pictured, speaking), one of BRIL’s founders, said that many disabled people across the UK were “having their basic rights curtailed, through a drive to make cuts to care packages, increase charges and to remove support”, while this is then described as “encouraging independence’”.
And he warned that some people supposedly in “supported living” settings were in fact really living in institutions, “with no choice or control over how, where and who they live with”.
He said: “Disabled people have described being ‘told’ they are now independent, so they don’t need support with anything other than basic personal care, meaning they don’t have a life beyond just existing.”
He added: “As with everyone throughout the country, we are facing cutbacks in funding due to government and local authority policies.
“Even for those disabled people who may not be personally facing cuts in funding themselves at the moment, there is always the threat of it happening hanging over them.
“The aims of BRIL are to reclaim the true meaning of independent living – not what those in power are telling us it means.”
One of the reasons for the launch of BRIL is the concern that some disabled people’s organisations and other user-led groups have “moved on from actively campaigning for rights, to putting all their energy into raising funds and taking on contracts, just to survive”.
Williams said: “While we understand that under the current regime of austerity and privatisation of health and social care services, many organisations are forced to seek contracts that do not allow them to challenge policies, BRIL, as an independent group, will be able to challenge anyone we believe is not carrying out their legal or moral duties.”
Rebecca Yeo, a disabled academic who is supporting BRIL, said: “BRIL is calling for services and support for independent living to be available to anyone regardless of migration status.
“We have already seen how when we allow the denial of rights to services and support for disabled asylum-seekers to go unchallenged, it is only a matter of time before similar restrictions are extended to a wider population.”
BRIL has been launched with the support of the Social Work Action Network South West, with the hope that disabled people and social workers will be able to work together on the campaign.
Williams said BRIL wanted to reach out to other disabled people in Bristol with support needs.
He said: “There are many disabled people in Bristol that we do not know about who might have already had their funding reduced or not been offered any help at all.
“BRIL will work with our allies to reach those people, who may feel isolated and unsupported.”
Disabled people or allies who are interested in attending future BRIL meetings can email [email protected] or call 07505 414319
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