Opinion piece: UN Report November 2016

The United Nations has published a highly critical report which states that says the rights of disabled people to live independently, to work, and achieve an adequate standard of living have been negatively affected by austerity measures in Britain.

Our research findings (humanactivsm.org) suggest that the government should take the findings of the report seriously and supports calls for a rights-based approach to welfare reform.

The UN inquiry is the first time that any country has been investigated for breaches of the rights of disabled people. While the Government has issued a strong rebuttal, claiming that the focus of the report is too narrow and therefore inaccurate, the report reflects findings from than 200 interviews and some 3,000 pages of documentary evidence and has been widely welcomed by disability activists and campaigners.

It is time for the government to address #disablism&austerity

The impacts of the cuts on people with learning disabilities

The political fall out after George Osborne’s recent budget raised huge questions about the morality of austerity and its real impacts upon the lives of disabled people. So, what impact have the cuts actually had on people with learning disabilities?

At the time of writing it remains unclear what his government is planning to do now in relation to future welfare cuts. What we can be more clear about is this; that previous austerity measures have had long-term consequences for people with learning disabilities. It was announced in 2015 that a United Nations inquiry is investigating alleged violations of the human rights of British disabled people as consequences of austerity welfare reforms. The hard-won human rights of people with learning disabilities to live independently have been eroded through cuts to benefits and social care.

High profile cases of abuse and neglect, in institutional and service settings, have demonstrated that people with learning disabilities experience everyday disablism. The case of Winterbourne View has galvanized campaigners to expose institutional abuse as a major cause of health inequalities. Just as the murder of Stephen Lawrence revealed systemic racism, a number of high-profile preventable deaths of people with learning disabilities in health, social care and community settings expose widespread institutional neglect.

Those most at risk are people with profound and multiple learning disabilities. People with learning disabilities are increasingly more likely to experience poor physical health, increased social isolation, mental ill-health and criminal justice system. Our concern is this – that poor health indices risk being further exacerbated by a number of recent austerity policies:

  • Declining support as a consequence of the closure (in June 2015) of the Independent Living Fund, which previously provided funding for around 18,000 disabled people to work and live in the community. Money has been transferred directly to local authorities and is no longer ring fenced.
  • The government aims to cut the budget by 20% as it phases out Disability Living Allowance and replaces it with Personal Independence Payments;
  • The reduction of benefits through the introduction of Employment Support Allowance and the Work Capability Assessment (replacing Incapacity Benefit) to identify more people as 'fit for work';
  • In 2015, 400,000 fewer people are receiving social care than in 2009-10.

Will life get even harder for people with learning disabilities? Our sad conclusion is that things can only get worse in these austerity times. Just as many disabled people worry that a Brexit will further strip away their human rights we are still to learn of the long-term impacts of austerity on disabled people and their families.

Remembering LB

Today, we are remembering the life of Connor Sparrowhawk, a much loved son, brother, friend and young man who died a preventable death in an NHS bath on 4th July, 2013. Three years later, his family and friends are still fighting for justice. #JusticeforLB

For more information and the JusticeforLB campaign. Please visit here: http://justiceforlb.org/

Get people with learning disabilities out of institutions NOW

There are currently over 3000 people with learning disabilities trapped in Assessment and Treatment units in the UK. Many have been incarcerated for years against the wishes of the people themselves and their families. What does this institutionalisation say about our society? And how might we respond?

Monday 18th April 2016 saw the launch of the 7 Days of Action Campaign. The campaign was launched by the mothers and family members of people with learning disabilities who are currently trapped in Assessment & Treatment Units. These people have committed no crime. They have rarely been diagnosed with a mental health condition. Yet, they remain in Units for years at a time. The campaign website reports that 43% of the people are in Units more than 50km from their homes. 72% are being prescribed anti-psychotic medication as a means of containing them. 30% of people have been in ATUs for more than 5 years. The average cost of being kept in an ATU is £3500 per week.

All people want is to be living back home with their families or to live in their own homes with support. And that is the aim of this campaign. The segregation and separation of people with learning disabilities is a stain on our communities. In times of austerity we need to find ways of coming together to support one another to ensure that people with learning disabilities are not marginalised, excluded and cast off to the edges of our communities.

Many people have been galvanised by the #7Daysofactioncampaign to connect with comrades with and without learning disabilities to challenge the dehumanisation of people so-labelled. This means keeping the pressure on key players including government, to service providers and commissioners of services. It also means working alongside people with learning disabilities and their representative organisations to ensure that their ambitions are recognised and responded to.

Key to such recognition is the health of the self-advocacy movement. Too many self-advocacy groups have folded over the last five years. And as people with learning disabilities tell us: these groups are essential to their lives and aspirations. Now is the time to contest exclusion (just as the #7Daysofactioncampaign has done) and promote disability activism in the lives of people with learning disabilities.