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From: The Socialist issue 670, 11 May 2011: Fight for the NHS

Search site for keywords: Council - Disabled - Family - Birmingham

Defend independent living rights

An Independent Living Fund user
Pensioners and elderly disabled people protesting against cuts in services outside Waltham Forest council, photo Paul Mattsson, photo Paul Mattsson

Pensioners and elderly disabled people protesting against cuts in services outside Waltham Forest council, photo Paul Mattsson, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

In April, Elaine McDonald, a former prima ballerina with the Scottish Ballet, took her fight to maintain her dignity and stop cuts to her care package to the Supreme Court.

Her local council, the Tory-controlled London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, had reassessed Elaine following a failed application to the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in 2007.

Instead of continuing to fund a personal assistant to stay with Elaine during the night to assist her with the toilet - help needed following three hospital admissions after separate falls at home - the council wanted her to use an incontinence pad or sheet although she is not incontinent.

Following a Court of Appeal decision last year to refuse Elaine a judicial review of this decision (see the Socialist, issue 646), the overnight element of her care package was finally withdrawn.

Legal arguments in support of Elaine's human rights and the discriminatory nature of the council's decision have so far failed.

While there is a statutory duty, under section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, on local authorities to provide or arrange services where someone has an assessed need, legal judgments in the 1990s weakened it considerably and it is now to be replaced with even weaker 'legal principles'.

Many of us who rely on personal assistance are following Elaine's case with a sense of dread. We fear a return to the days when funding for personal assistance was not available and the choice was residential care, reliance on family or volunteers or an unforgiving existence on one's own.

Few people remember that before the ILF (which supports 21,000 people) was set-up in 1988, funding of large care packages only existed for a small number. Sometimes people had a few hours of homecare support or access to a day centre, but it was insufficient to lead a full social, working or family life.

Pensioners and elderly disabled people protesting against cuts in services outside Waltham Forest council, photo Paul Mattsson

Pensioners and elderly disabled people protesting against cuts in services outside Waltham Forest council, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

With the ILF's imminent closure, it is na¤ve to believe that in the 'age of austerity' local authorities will maintain current levels of funding for our care packages.

Elaine's case has arisen precisely because her council is applying a financial 'cap'. This practice is unfortunately common, and is applied mostly to older disabled people when they are shunted into residential care rather than being supported in their own home.

Many disabled activists place faith in the human rights act and anti-discrimination legislation to protect their rights. The High Court decision in April, that it is unlawful for Birmingham council to raise its eligibility criteria from substantial to critical because it had failed during its decision-making process to consider properly the impact on service users, may reinforce this view.

This decision will offer short respite for 4,100 Birmingham residents who were set to lose all their social services.

To support Elaine's and others' dignity and rights permanently, a Supreme Court decision will have to be prepared to make a ruling that reverses the current neoliberal dismantling of social care and local services.

But rather than rely on judges who defend the interests of the rich, the disabled people's movement needs to mobilise and coordinate with the trade unions and anti-cuts campaigns now to publicly support Elaine McDonald, defend our right to live in the community with full support, stop the closure of the ILF, and demand the extra billions needed by councils to meet the needs of all disabled people and family carers.

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