Make so­cial care sup­port a na­tional en­ti­tle­ment

The Herald - - OPINION - JIM ELDERWOODWARD In­de­pen­dent chair­man, Scot­tish In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing Coali­tion Agenda is a col­umn for out­side con­trib­u­tors. Con­tact: agenda@ the­herald.co.uk

YOU don’t have to look too far, or lis­ten too hard, to en­counter dis­abled peo­ple’s de­spair, mis­ery, and ut­ter de­mor­al­i­sa­tion, as they strug­gle just to ex­ist in to­day’s Scot­land.

West­min­ster’s wel­fare re­form – that Or­wellian phrase – has sub­stan­tially re­duced their in­come, with lit­tle help to find suit­able em­ploy­ment. The new “self-di­rected” so­cial care sup­port has also been im­ple­mented hap­haz­ardly and in­eptly, with lit­tle at­ten­tion to the act’s goals: to in­crease dis­abled peo­ple’s op­por­tu­ni­ties to choose how to live and con­trol their own sup­port. Many peo­ple, both north and south of the Bor­der, dis­abled or not, think so­cial care sup­port, it­self, is on the verge of ex­tinc­tion.

With the forth­com­ing pol­icy of free per­sonal care for those un­der 65 in Scot­land, many fear ser­vices may merely get peo­ple out of bed by mid-day; get them washed, dressed, fed and toi­leted; then leave them to watch telly all day, be­fore be­ing fed and wa­tered, and put to bed around six in the evening. That’s the kind on life which leads to iso­la­tion, de­pres­sion and phys­i­cal de­te­ri­o­ra­tion – lead­ing to more pres­sure on health care, not less. For most adult dis­abled peo­ple, the sat­is­fac­tion of their per­sonal care needs is only the foun­da­tion on which their right to live fully rests. They want a sys­tem, which is the same, no mat­ter where they live, or where they go; a sys­tem, which gives them the sup­port to get a life and get on with it.

Such a uni­ver­sal sys­tem can be found in Scot­land. Set up in 1988, the In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing Fund (ILF) was a trail­blazer of self-di­rected so­cial care sup­port, and was greatly val­ued by dis­abled peo­ple right across the UK. It gave money to se­verely dis­abled peo­ple, at risk of be­ing in­sti­tu­tion­alised, to or­gan­ise their own sup­port in the com­mu­nity.

Un­for­tu­nately, it was closed by the West­min­ster Gov­ern­ment in June 2015. This clo­sure was met with de­spair, le­gal chal­lenge and sig­nif­i­cant protests, in­clud­ing

More at­ten­tion would be given to achiev­ing out­comes than to how they were achieved

dis­abled peo­ple storm­ing the Houses of Par­lia­ment. For­tu­nately, the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment lis­tened to dis­abled peo­ple. They set up a new public body, ILF Scot­land, which con­tin­ues to sup­port those few thou­sand here who were still in re­ceipt of the orig­i­nal ILF fund­ing. ILF Scot­land will soon open a new fund, aimed at sup­port­ing dis­abled peo­ple, as they go through sig­nif­i­cant life tran­si­tions.

In­de­pen­dent liv­ing does not mean that dis­abled peo­ple should do ev­ery­thing by them­selves, with­out any help. Nei­ther does it mean they should be left to make de­ci­sions and choices in splen­did iso­la­tion. Rather, in­de­pen­dent liv­ing means that they should have the sup­port, ad­vice and guid­ance to make the same choices non-dis­abled peo­ple make in their day-to-day liv­ing.

Many dis­abled peo­ple be­lieve that the lessons to be learned from ILF in Scot­land, if ap­plied more uni­ver­sally, could im­prove the qual­ity of life for many, not just the lucky few. A main­stream self-di­rected so­cial care sup­port sys­tem on this model would op­er­ate as a na­tional scheme, with na­tional cri­te­ria. El­i­gi­bil­ity would not be de­ter­mined by lo­cal pri­or­i­ties, or lo­cal poli­cies. A dis­abled per­son could move for work or per­sonal rea­sons, with­out the fear of los­ing ei­ther per­sonal or so­cial sup­port. More at­ten­tion would be given to achiev­ing out­comes than to how they were achieved. The new sys­tem would take a more flex­i­ble ap­proach, trust­ing dis­abled peo­ple to make good de­ci­sions and recog­nis­ing they are best placed to do so.

This ap­proach could well pro­vide an em­pow­er­ing model of self-di­rected so­cial care sup­port for all dis­abled peo­ple across Scot­land; an ap­proach which could be truly trans­for­ma­tive; which would show the world, what a sup­port­ive and in­clu­sive so­ci­ety Scot­land truly is.

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