More worrying news on the potential impact of benefit and service reform emerged last week, with a Joint Committee on Human Rights report saying the proposed reforms risk leaving disabled people without the support they need to live independently.

The Committee found that the impact of restrictions in local authority eligibility criteria for social care support, the replacement of disability living allowance with personal independence payment, the closure of the Independent Living Fund and changes to housing benefit could force them out of their homes and local communities and into residential care.While the findings of the report add more weight to the anti-reform lobby, it also highlighted something perhaps more surprising in UK law – that an independent life is not a freestanding right.The right to an independent life is protected and promoted to some extent by what the Joint Committee calls a ‘matrix of rights’, but there is nothing explicit in UK law to enshrine it – and the Committee feels that the Government should consider the need for a freestanding right. 

 Considering the gathering weight of evidence of the potential impact of changes to benefits and services, perhaps the right is needed.It seems ironic that the Government has pledged its support for the personalisation agenda, which is all about giving choice and control to service users over their own lives, but the reforms and budget cutbacks put that under threat.While we live in tough economic times, we have to remember that independence for people with learning disabilities is not a luxury, which can only be afforded in times of plenty, but a basic right and if it needs to be enshrined in law to ensure this happens, then so be it.Services and support for people with learning disabilities to live the life they want has come a long way in the past 10 years, but they cannot be allowed to be threatened by reforms.Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, summed it up perfectly:  “Independent living should be a life choice for disabled people. The Government should address this issue and honour their commitment to protect society’s most vulnerable.”