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Disability v the House of Lords

Caroline Ellis
30 June 2008

Caroline Ellis (Our Lives Choices): Tomorrow, a battle will take place in the House of Lords in which the human rights of disabled and older people will be pitted against the forces of Government complacency.

Crossbench peer Baroness (Jane) Campbell of Surbiton will move an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill at Third Reading guaranteeing anyone in receipt of a care package the ability to take it with them when they move. At the moment, if a disabled person has the audacity to relocate - whether for a new job or to be closer to family - they will most likely face months or even years waiting for a new support package to be put in place. Even if their very lives depend on continuity of support, the reality is they will experience a stressful, humiliating, debilitating and often fruitless battle. Little wonder then that many think it simply isn't worth the bother.

Jane Campbell is one of the most respected leaders of the disability movement and one of the most respected experts on social care, independent living and the transformation of public services. Jane does not think it acceptable that she remain effectively a prisoner of her local authority, at risk of life and limb if she should move to a different council. So she has set out to tear down one of the most glaring remnants of the old Poor Law that puts disabled people at the mercy of their parish.

Human rights are, necessarily, being prayed in aid. The right to family life is one that goes by the wayside as local authorities compete to see how stingy they can be with newcomers, and how long they can drag the process of reassessment out. Freedom of movement is another victim. Included in a protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights it is also specified in the new UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities which exhorts states to recognise liberty of movement for disabled people and empower them to freely choose their place of residence. The UK Government aims to ratify this at the end of the year - but ratification implies you actively enable citizens the ability to enjoy the rights enshrined in the Convention, not so in this case.

Jane's amendment is being fiercely resisted by Government, who may offer only a pointless sop: inclusion of proposals on portability and continuity of social care support in their promised Green paper on adult care reform for further consultation (a Green Paper they have little hope of ever implementing).

It is also resisted by the Local Government Association whose briefing is littered with classic paternalism such as "Councils will always strive to provide the best level of care possible for those in need" (err in case you hadn't noticed mate you have statutory obligations towards disabled people as citizens)

It has however received strong backing from seven leading national disability organisations, Carers UK, BIHR, the big hitters in the older people's lobby, peers of all parties and of none and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Community care lawyer Luke Clements has pointed out the necessity of legislating now to ensure the fundamental principle of continuity of social care support does not continue to be thwarted by bureaucratic delay and maladministration on the part of local authorities.

But from Government there cometh no movement. Never mind the millions that are wasted on pointless reassessment of people whose needs haven't changed and never mind the millions lost to the economy when disabled people are left unable to work or contribute, you just can't go around changing the law at the behest of disabled people and their chums even if they know more than you.

Ministers, civil servants and officials at the Local Government Association don't have to deal day in, day out with the human fallout from a community care system still rooted in the poor law, it certainly doesn't affect them personally. For them it's a theoretical policy matter that can easily wait till another day.

Not so those at the receiving end. Disabled people hope fervently for a division tomorrow and for that division to result in the provision being added to the Bill. Sure Government can try and reverse it in the Commons but politically that looks deeply unattractive and will be met by vociferous lobbying. If the independent living movement fails to get or win a division we will be back - for battle in Parliament, battle in the courts. We're declaring war on complacency and war on the poor law.

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