Independence Fighter

Nick Danagher CV 


  • March 2005-present: National Centre for Independent Living
    executive director.
  • 1999-2005: Surrey Independent Living Council chief
  • 1996-9: Surrey Council personal assistance scheme development
  • 1995-6: Independent Living Alternatives young persons’ forum
    development worker.
  • 1994-5: Greenwich Association of Disabled People personal
    assistance adviser.

Voluntary Roles

  • 2002-5: Co-chair of NCIL.
  • 1998-2002: Co-chair and chair of British Council of Disabled
    People independent living subcommittee.

If Nick Danagher had had his way he would be presenting the
evening news instead of Huw Edwards or Trevor McDonald. After
completing a degree in English and media studies at the University
of Sussex in 1991 he applied, unsuccessfully, for jobs with the BBC
and ITV. The media’s loss ultimately proved to be the disability
movement’s gain as last month he was appointed executive director
of campaigning charity the National Council for Independent Living

NCIL’s offices are based in Vauxhall, south London. It shares
the building with the UK Coalition of People Living with HIV and
Aids. Danagher’s first month in post has been pretty hectic: he has
already met community care minister Stephen Ladyman and minister
for disabled people Maria Eagle and is working with the Association
of Directors of Social Services on a protocol for commissioning
direct payment support services.

“There is a lot happening at the moment and NCIL’s influence is
growing. The number of people who want to work and talk with us
seems to be mushrooming daily,” he says.

Over the coming 12 months Danagher aims to ensure the NCIL’s
foundations are stable for the future. This is partly because its
core funding, a £280,000 section 64 grant – given to voluntary
organisations supporting the Department of Health’s policy
priorities – ends in April 2006. NCIL’s work supporting the network
of centres for independent living (CILs) in England, Wales and
Northern Ireland places it firmly in this category. NCIL also
receives funding from Comic Relief and generates income by
providing a training consultancy and publications.

Danagher became an activist as a student challenging the
exclusion of disabled people. Now disability is set to enjoy a
higher profile, not least because in February the Prime Minister’s
Strategy Unit published a report outlining the long-term strategy
for improving the lives of disabled people.1 The impetus behind
this, believes Danagher, is that the government realised disabled
people’s situation hadn’t improved in the age of opportunity that
Tony Blair promised.

One of the strategy’s major pledges is that by 2025 all disabled
people in the UK should have full opportunities and choices to
improve their quality of life and be respected and included as
equal members of society. Is such a notion achievable in 20 years?
Smiling, Danagher says: “It is, but it would take a lot of
concerted effort across the whole of society.”

He argues that any such “revolution” would have to be a
revolution for everyone and not just for disabled people. “It would
involve every non-disabled person thinking about their attitude to
impairment, trying to get people to rid themselves of the fear of
that and accepting that impairment is an everyday part of

While two decades may sound like a long time to some, it is
important to have a realistic deadline. One of the criticisms of
the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, says Danagher, is that it
gave transport “ludicrously long timescales” to adapt its rolling
stock. “It’s given them carte blanche to forget about it for 15

But there is a far more pressing deadline in the strategy that
calls for each council to have a user-led organisation modelled on
CILs by 2010. Danagher says there are only about 30 in the UK that
are CILs in the purest sense, and creating one in each of the
remaining 130 local authorities in five years will be a
He wants NCIL to have a lot of influence over local authorities’
criteria for what constitutes a centre to ensure they will not be
diluted by a sudden roll out of new CILs.

“It is important that new CILs adopt the same working principles
and are controlled by disabled people at membership and governance
level. And their constitution must say they are founded on
independent living philosophy.”

The strategy proposes amalgamating funding streams into an
individual budget, which disabled people can decide how to spend.
But how will they work? Danagher smiles and says: “I don’t think
the government has a clear idea of what individualised budgets are
yet. That’s good because they need us to work it out for
And NCIL is identifying sites across England to run six pilots over
the next three years. Danagher emphasises that the service users
who take part in the pilots should be those who already assess
their own needs.

Although NCIL supports the concept of individualised budgets in
principle, it does not want to see them completely replace direct
payments. “We need to guard against diluting the transformational
potential of direct payments because experience shows that
practitioners tend to go for the easier, less risky, less
empowering option for their clients if given the choice.”

This is partly because of local authorities’ risk averse
culture, where they are not necessarily worried about the risk to
the individual so much as that to the organisation, he says.

“Assumptions get made about people’s ability to manage. One of
the main reasons why direct payments have been obstructed is social
services’ fundamental lack of faith in disabled people’s ability to
manage their own support.”

He adds that individualised budgets are about providing more
accountability and transparency to users about how their budgets
are spent. Much to Danagher’s concern, there is still uncertainty
as to whether the new funding mechanism could be used to purchase
residential care places. Direct payments cannot be used for this.
“Direct payments started off as a means of getting out of
residential care so it seems a bit regressive to go back to

Once parliament resumes after the election one private member’s
bill that Danagher would be happy to fall by the wayside is Lord
Joffe’s on assisted dying for the terminally ill.

He sees its proposals to legalise voluntary euthanasia as “the
thin end of the wedge”, describing the recent death of Terri
Schiavo in the US as the murder of a disabled person. “It was only
legalised because it was a disabled person. She wasn’t even in a
coma, she was conscious.”

He highlights the extra time limits for abortion of a disabled
foetus: “How can you say that society wants to give disabled people
equality and equal citizenship on the one hand when it is still
possible to end disabled people’s lives at the beginning and the
end on different terms to non-disabled people?”

But there is a difference between assisted dying and euthanasia,
and Danagher has mixed views on the bill’s proposals for the
former. “It’s a personal assistance issue and I support disabled
people’s rights to do anything so I guess I should support this. It
is a difficult thing to ask somebody to do, but if you can find
someone to kill you it is quite a specific advert in the paper.

“That aside, if you have a right to personal assistance, you
should have the right to have personal assistance for assisted
dying. But most disabled people who want to end their lives do so
because they have not been given adequate support and equality of
opportunity to lead their lives to the full.”

  1. Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, Prime Minister’s
    Strategy Unit, 2005


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