Three of the country’s leading disability organisations have agreed to merge within months.
Members of the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL), RADAR and Disability Alliance (DA) backed the merger at separate annual general meetings held over the last fortnight.
The new charity – Disability Rights UK – will be a disabled people’s organisation (DPO), will be led by a disabled person, and will be run and controlled by disabled people, with disabled people making up at least three-quarters of its board members.
The final approval for the merger came this afternoon at NCIL’s annual general meeting (agm) in south London, with 11 votes in favour and just one abstention.
DA’s members had voted unanimously in favour at their agm, while just one RADAR member voted against the plans.
Mike Smith, NCIL’s chair, assured his members that achieving “meaningful” independent living for disabled people would be one of the new organisation’s four core “tenets”.
Disability Rights UK will also focus on promoting disabled people’s leadership and control, breaking the link between disability and poverty, and campaigning for disability equality and human rights.
The new organisation will be based in RADAR’s current central London headquarters, which are to undergo a major refit, and is likely to begin work on 1 January 2012, although an official launch is not likely until the spring.
Smith said NCIL had been facing an “uncertain financial future”, while members had a “greater chance of achieving our objectives because of the greater size and scale” of the new organisation, which would ensure that the independent living movement “thrives and not just survives”.
Sue Bott, NCIL’s director, said the merger would create a “powerful and a stronger voice” and would allow NCIL to move away from its current “over-reliance on government funds”.
Liz Sayce, the chief executive of RADAR, will lead the new organisation, with Bott its director of development, leading on areas such as co-production, working with DPOs, independent living, and developing leaders within the disability movement.
Disabled individuals and DPOs will be able to become voting members, while “ally” organisations that are not run by disabled people will be able to join, but will not have voting rights.
Tara Flood, director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education and treasurer of the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), told the agm that Disability Rights UK must recognise the importance of having a “diversity of voices” in the disability movement.
Last year, UKDPC “politely declined” an invitation to join the merged organisation, but pledged to work alongside it.
It also warned last year of the danger of the new organisation setting itself up as the only voice of disabled people, a concern echoed today by Flood.
Bott said: “We are not putting forward Disability Rights UK as the [only] voice of disabled people. That it could never be.”
Sayce said afterwards that she wanted the two organisations to “work in a collaborative and positive way together”, and believed there was room for both UKDPC and Disability Rights UK.
She pointed to UKDPC’s important work on disability hate crime and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Sayce said: “It is fantastic news that three organisations have now voted overwhelmingly in favour of coming together to create an even stronger national organisation led by disabled people, that will enable many more disabled people to have a voice.”
But she said it was too early to say if there would be any redundancies as a result of the merger.
Richard Gutch, interim chief executive of DA, said he felt “excitement” but also “relief” at the vote by NCIL’s members, following nearly three years of negotiations between the three organisations.