A disabled activist has told a major conference of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) how a successful campaign to end discriminatory care charges in a London borough has led to powerful change in other key areas of independent living.
Kevin Caulfield told the conference in Manchester that the campaign led to “huge, huge change” in disabled people’s involvement in co-producing policy with Hammersmith and Fulham council.
It was the first significant in-person gathering of English DPOs* since a conference in Sheffield in 2016 and was organised by the DPO Forum England, Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance and Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP).
Caulfield (pictured) is former chair of Hammersmith and Fulham Coalition Against Cuts, which played a key role in campaigning for an end to care charges in the borough, and is now strategic lead for co-production at the council.
He told the conference how the then leader of the council had told disabled activists in the 2000s to “to wake up and smell the coffee, and that we are never going to live in a borough where disabled people are not charged for essential support and services”.
But in 2015, Hammersmith and Fulham became the only council in the country to abolish all charges for care and support, when Labour won control of the council under Cllr Stephen Cowan, who had pledged to scrap charges when in opposition.
Caulfield said the message to the conference was “to stick to your principles, however strong the coffee smells, and if we water down our messages and our demands, then we’re stuffed”.
But he said care charging was just one of the “huge” barriers disabled people face.
Hammersmith and Fulham also set up a disabled people’s commission that focused on how to remove the barriers disabled people faced in the borough by embedding a culture of co-production within the council.
All eight of the recommendations made by the commission were about co-production, he told the conference.
One of the priorities was to implement a vision for independent living, co-produced by disabled people, which Caulfield said was “groundbreaking”.
He said there were now at least seven council groups working with disabled residents, including on housing, the redevelopment of the town hall, and on digital inclusion, so there was “a movement of residents becoming part of the fabric of the way the council works, and that’s a huge, huge change” and a long-term commitment.
Caulfield said: “All of our residents are being paid for their time if they want to be, and disabled people are becoming much more a part of a delivery team across the borough, not just consultees and service-users.”
Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, told the conference that he would speak to Cowan about how he managed to scrap care charges in his borough, and also find out what has happened in Tower Hamlets, which this year announced that it would also be ending care charges.
He said care charge policy and council tax rates were set by the 10 Greater Manchester local authorities, but he said he would work with them to try to produce a “standardised approach” to care charging “as a prelude, hopefully in the future, to removing it completely, which is what I support”.
He had said earlier: “Personally, I think care charges are an abomination. I would want to see all people able to live their lives without being disadvantaged from a financial point of view.
“These are the issues we need to get into the general election campaign. I hope today will help us do that.”
The conference also heard from two co-chairs of the Greater Manchester Disabled People’s Panel, a formal partnership between Burnham and DPOs across Greater Manchester.
One of the co-chairs, Chris Hamnet, from Embrace Wigan and Leigh, said: “We’re able to select the issues we want to take to the system, so we get to speak to Andy, and we take the issues that we think are important, rather than the system telling us what they want to consult us on.”
Another co-chair, Sara Crookdake, from Disability Stockport, spoke of the survey of 1,700 people, including 1,500 disabled people living within Greater Manchester, which was carried out by the panel last year.
The survey found that disabled people were being “forgotten and effectively abandoned”, forced to rely on foodbanks, and having to cut back on how much they eat, because of the cost-of-living crisis.
Crookdake said the panel had worked in partnership with Greater Manchester Combined Authority to discuss how to respond to the issues raised by the survey, and met with the four main energy providers, while communications had improved with all 10 Greater Manchester councils.
She said: “It’s meant that those disabled persons’ organisations can now better network, they communicate with each other, and it’s undoubtedly going to strengthen the movement.”
*Other representatives of DPOs watched the conference and took part in discussions online
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