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Independent living inquiry: Cuts to support are a ‘breach of rights’

Disabled people’s human rights are being breached because of the government’s failure to implement their right to independent living, a committee of MPs and peers has been told.

The parliamentary joint committee on human rights was hearing evidence from leading disabled people’s organisations as it began an inquiry into the implementation of disabled people’s right to independent living.

The committee heard that the government’s decisions to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF) to new members and cut spending on disability living allowance (DLA) by 20 per cent, and other coalition welfare reforms and cuts to disability benefits, as well as ever-tightening eligibility for care services, were putting disabled people’s right to independent living at risk.

Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Council, said that cuts to support would breach article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the section which deals with living independently and being included in the community.

He said the closure of the ILF would have a “brutal” impact and cause many disabled people to “lose the level of support they need to remain independent in the community and thereby put their health and well-being at risk”.

Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said the coalition government had yet to decide whether it would “take forward” the five-year, cross-government independent living strategy launched by the Labour government in March 2008.

She said the issue of independent living appeared to have been “forgotten about” in the wake of the financial crisis, and warned that disabled people’s support was like a “house of cards” that would collapse if one of its elements, such as the ILF, was removed.

She said local authorities had failed to fill the gap left by the ILF’s closure, and added: “Once one of those cards is pulled away then life for an individual disabled person can deteriorate very rapidly.”

The government has so far only promised to “safeguard the position” of the 21,000 existing ILF recipients until 2015.

Bott said that if the fund was closed for good, it would cause a problem “not only for those people who would have applied for the fund but also the 21,000 existing recipients of the fund, because to date there has been no suggestion as to where that money can come from”.

Marije Davidson, RADAR’s public affairs manager, told the committee that the failure to consult with disabled people and user-led organisations was leading to “bad decision-making” and was a “massive impediment” to independent living.

Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance (DA), said there were ways of achieving greater independence for disabled people at lower cost, such as introducing “portability” of people’s care packages and reducing the number of assessments they had to undergo.

He said: “The cuts narrative [of the government] is almost that you can just take this money away and it won’t have any impact at all.”

But he said that “peeling away” the support provided by DLA would have a “clear” impact on disabled people, as well as “quite considerable” costs for the health service, while many disabled people had told DA they would question the value of continuing to live if their DLA was removed.

After the evidence session, a Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman claimed the ILF was “not sustainable”, and added: “Next year we will consult with disabled people and local authorities about how we can best support existing users of the ILF through social care that gives disabled people the choice and control they should have over their lives.

“We are working hard to make the care system simpler, more sustainable, and more responsive and have injected an extra £2 billion into it each year by 2014.”

News provided by  Disability News Service