Independent living for disabled people: special report

The freedom to choose where you live and what type of accommodation is something we all take for granted but disabled people don’t currently enjoy such basic rights.

A private member’s bill, due to be introduced to parliament this month, would create new laws to help disabled people live more independently.

At present disabled people who move have to renegotiate new support packages from scratch with no guarantee of receiving the same level of care, even for a transitional period. The bill, which is being introduced into the House of Lords by Labour peer Lord Ashley, would allow disabled people to move without jeopardising their support packages.

The Disability Rights Commission, which is helping to write the bill says that not having these measures in place is a major block on disabled people’s social and economic mobility. Duties need to be placed on local authorities to co-operate to ensure a smooth transition when people move from place to place, the commission says.

Simone Aspis, development officer for the British Council of Disabled People, strongly supports the bill’s proposal and sees the current situation as a form of discrimination.

“I know of disabled people who haven’t been able to take up jobs or move from one place to another. It’s like you’re a prisoner in your own local authority.”

Aspis says that non-disabled people who receive benefits are able to receive the same rate if they move without being reassessed and questions why this can’t be extended. 

The new system of individual budgets, currently being piloted, is more flexible for service users and should make it easier for support packages to be moved around, she says.

Right to choose
The bill would also protect people from being forced to go into institutional care against their will and give them a stronger right to choose where and how they live.

This could include renting or buying a home, living with family or in supported housing.

The proposals echo a section in the green paper on adult social care, Independence, Wellbeing and Choice (published March 2005) stating that the government will consult on giving people a “right to request” not to live in residential or nursing care. But the DRC says  the green paper does not go far enough in making the bill’s proposal necessary.

Aspis says the bill’s definition of institutional care will have to be carefully drafted so it covers all forms of this type of institutional accommodation and not just nursing and residential homes. She says that group homes – shared homes usually lived in by people with learning difficulties or mental health problems – should also come under the definition as they often have elements which are the same as more traditional forms of institutional care.

Accessible housing
Another issue which needs to be tackled is the lack of accessible housing.

“In order to prevent disabled people being forced into residential care, it is vital that more investment is made into both social and private accessible housing. Scope also encourages local authorities to keep a register of accessible social housing so that disabled people are allowed to make informed choices about where they want to live,” says Abigail Lock, parliamentary affairs officer at the charity.

She explains that while some authorities do keep registers, others do not which can lead to situations where they pay for accommodation to be made accessible, the disabled person moves on and then the property lies empty or is converted back.

Another measure put forward by the bill is for all support packages to be based on a self-assessment carried out by disabled people themselves.  Lock says that Scope would like to see this extended so all disability benefits and work packages, (such as Access to Work, a government scheme which provides disabled people with support at work), are also based on a similar assessment.

“People get things imposed on them they don’t need under Access to Work. If there is self assessment it would be more efficient and tailored to individual needs,” she says.

Support and advocacy
Aspis also supports the bill’s proposal but says it will also need to ensure that support and advocacy are made available to disabled people to help them carry out the assessment.

It is unusual for private member’s bills introduced at this stage in the parliamentary programme to make it onto the statute book but there are exceptions. With so much support the chance of these proposals becoming law shouldn’t be ruled out.





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