(This blog was first published on 30th December 2012)
In 2013 we should call for legislation to protect and promote independent living.
The Independent Living Strategy 2009 promised that government would review the case for such legislation ‘if sufficient progress has not been made against the outcomes by 2013’. The strategy enjoyed cross Party support. There can be little doubt that this test has been met. Moreover, on many of the outcomes the picture is one of regression.
The final report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ (JCHR) Inquiry into disabled people’s right to independent living (2012) recommended that ‘all interested parties, governmental and non-governmental, immediately start work on assessing the need for and feasibility of free-standing legislation to give more concrete effect in UK law to the right to independent living.’
Such legislation could take many forms, but perhaps most realistic would be the proposal made by the JCHR for a duty on central and local government to publish and implement independent living strategies, set against nationally agreed outcomes, and for these strategies to be monitored by an independent body. The strategies would be developed with the active involvement of disabled people.
This approach offers a bridge between the duty of the UK government to meet its obligations to protect, promote and ensure enjoyment by disabled people of the rights to live independently and to be included in the community set out in Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the policies of both ‘localism’ and the ‘big society’.
National government, local government and civil society (including disabled people’s user led organisations) would act as strategic partners. A strategic duty would not begin and end with a focus on entitlement to specific services. It would equally focus on the achievement of outcomes through innovation, the identification, harnessing and release of sustainable individual, family and community assets and resources, and generating the social and environmental conditions which facilitate inclusion. With respect to services it should in particular provide an incentive to national and local government to work with disabled people’s organisations to find ways to minimise administrative costs and bureaucracy and to tackle head-on the perverse incentives of the liability culture which has grown across our public services.
A focus on independent living provides an opportunity for disabled people and their allies to reframe the public narrative regarding welfare reform and its impact. It offers the chance to generate serious propositions regarding both the role of disabled people in our society and the role of the State which can be cast as solutions to the major economic and demographic challenges we face as a society in the years ahead.
Most important of all, it would help reinstate equality and human rights – and not welfare – as the frame through which disabled people’s place in British society was understood, debated and pursued.
Happy New Year