Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Human Rights Committee fears for disabled independence

Reforms to benefits and services risk leaving disabled people without the support they need to live independently, according to a report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

The Parliamentary Committee is concerned that restrictions in local authority eligibility criteria for social care support, the replacement of disability living allowance (DLA) with personal independence payment (PIP), the closure of the Independent Living Fund and changes to housing benefit “risk interacting in a particularly harmful way for disabled people.” In addition, the Committee repeats the fear among some people that the cumulative impact of these changes will force them out of their homes and local communities and into residential care.

The Committee voiced its concerns in its report on the implementation of the right of disabled people to independent living in the context of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which was ratified by the UK in 2009.

In the report, the Committee also calls on the government to assess the need for legislation to establish independent living as a freestanding right, which it currently isn’t in UK law. While it is protected and promoted to some extent by a matrix of rights, the Committee believes that this is not enough. Dr Hywel Francis MP, chair of the Committee, said: “We are concerned to learn that the right of disabled people to independent living may be at risk through the cumulative impact of current reforms. Even though the UK ratified the UNCPRD in 2009 with cross-party support, the Government is unable to demonstrate that sufficient regard has been paid to the Convention in the development of policy with direct relevance to the lives of disabled people. “The right to independent living in UK law may need to be strengthened further, and we call on the Government and other interested organisations to consider the need for a freestanding right to independent living in UK law.”

Mark Lever, chief executive of The National Autistic Society (NAS), is also concerned about opportunities for independence for people with learning disabilities. “Only 14% of adults with autism currently live in their own house or flat with support, despite a further 37% saying they would like to live independently, but cannot get adequate assistance from their local authority to do so,” he said. “The Government pledged to promote greater choice and control for disabled people, but the reform of DLA along with ever tightening local authority budgets, puts adults with autism at risk of losing the only support they receive that allows them to live independently. “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.”

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