As the International Day of Disabled People (3rd December) dawns upon us, I thought I would honour this auspicious occasion by writing a blog about when a small but select group of us from SPECTRUM went to London to a Disabled People’s Summit. This group consisted of Berni Vincent from the Community Navigator Team, student social worker Paula Pace, Ross Smith from the Journey to Employment project and, of course, yours truly from the membership and information side of the fence. This event was hosted by DPAC (Disabled People Against the Cuts) and The People’s Assembly. I will be writing about the Independent Living workshop Berni and I attended as space is limited and I thought this would be the topic most people would be interested in.
Travel to the venue was trouble-free, with all trains/taxis etc behaving themselves in spite of the inclement weather. The event was very well-attended, with approximately 200 attendees from Bedford, to the Midlands, to Southampton and London.
The day started with an opening plenary from John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, via video clip and the excellent Bob Williams-Findlay, a well-known contributor to the Disability Arts and Cultural movement and finally, Ellen Clifford from DPAC. This was followed by 7 workshops, covering accessible transport, employment, inclusive education, independent living, mental health, social security and violence and abuse against Deaf and Disabled People. You could choose which workshop you wished to attend, but as there were so many interesting topics to choose from, we had problems deciding which ones we wanted to go to! Berni and I headed off to the Independent Living workshop, with Ross going to the Employment workshop. We started off with introductions and sharing what we thought the problems were and what was essential to Independent Living. The main consensus was that the issues to be tackled were:
-cuts to people’s support packages
– the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF)
– cuts to social care generally
– the institutionalisation of people with Mental Health issues
– Local Authorities failing to take responsibility for the impact of the cuts.
– Inaccessibility of consultation information
Many people spoke passionately and eloquently about the issues they were facing and the anger and frustration they felt was palpable. It seemed to many of us that the concept of Independent Living has been shifting over the last 8 years so that it now seems to apply to a privileged few in that many people are having to give up their care as they cannot afford to pay for it at the same time as essential services are being cut and withdrawn. The second half of the workshop was devoted to outlining what potential solutions we could come up with to tackle these problems and reclaim the idea of Independent Living.
The solutions we came up with were:
– the right to Independent Living to be enshrined in law
– an Independent Living Service free at the point of service, funded by direct taxation and run by Disabled People
– the national reintroduction of the Independent Living Fund (ILF)
– Independent Living for ALL
– hold politicians to account
– parity of esteem between visible disabilities and impairments and Mental Health and Hidden Impairments
– accessible housing at affordable prices
– co-production with Disabled People at every level
– access to advocacy for Disabled People
– Disabled People setting the “Gold Standard” for Independent Living in terms of information and housing and forcing the government to accept it
-Getting people out of institutions and back into their communities
After lunch and networking, there were more workshops and feedback from the day, before attendees departed for their home destinations, full of enthusiasm for the long fight ahead. There will be a follow-up conference in Brixton on 25th November which will flesh out what a National Independent Living Service will look like and how this can be achieved.
I often hear it said how people no longer have any fight left in them to resist what is happening, but it is an encouraging sign that I met many Disabled People that day who are more than up for the challenge and it will certainly be interesting to keep an eye on future developments as they unfold.