The nation would be “in uproar” if the government had tried to make similar cuts in the NHS to those happening across social care, a leading disabled activist has told MPs and peers.
Andrew Lee, director of People First (Self Advocacy), told the joint committee on human rights that politicians’ lives would become “a nightmare” if they tried to make such cuts to the NHS.
The parliamentary committee was hearing from some of the country’s leading disabled activists as part of its inquiry into the implementation of disabled people’s right to independent living.
Lee told the committee that non-disabled people take independent living for granted, whereas disabled people “have to fight for everything – having children, having a job, living independently”.
He said: “We have to fight for the audacity of saying this is what we want when everybody we come across says, ‘You will not be able to do that, you’re not capable of doing that.’”
John Evans, the veteran activist and co-founder of the National Centre for Independent Living, who campaigns across Europe for independent living, said disabled activists on the continent had reacted with “absolute astonishment” to reports of cuts to support for disabled people in the UK.
He said the UK was seen as leading the way on independent living, but disabled people in other European countries were now saying: “If this can happen in the UK… what is going to happen in our country?”
Evans said that if – as feared – the government closes the Independent Living Fund completely in 2015, he would probably be forced to move into residential care.
He also said he was “absolutely astonished” at the “quite alarming” number of people working for local authorities who were unaware of the existence of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Doug Paulley, who lives in a residential home and campaigns on behalf of other disabled residents, said one key problem was the lack of any user-led organisation to represent people living in residential care.
He said the government had failed to realise that the big disability charities, which often ran residential homes themselves, were not “democratically representative” of disabled people.
And he said that government funding given to these charities should be handed instead to user-led organisations, which he said could “make a big difference”.
Professor Peter Beresford, chair of Shaping Our Lives, called for more to be done to provide new opportunities for the user-led sector, which he said was “one of the most exciting and emerging and radical sectors”.
He said central and local government were not offering the user-led sector “any kind of equality” in terms of opportunities to provide services, “despite the evidence we have from research of the value it can contribute as employer, as service-provider and commissioner”.