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Disability Wales Conference and AGM Discussed Growing Deprivation

Discussed at Conference.

On 19th October 2016, Disability Wales held its thirtieth annual conference and AGM in Wrexham. The title, ‘New Directions’, refers to the conference’s theme concerning the outlook for disabled people as our society undergoes Brexit, changes its political makeup and undergoes the changes austerity is bringing. While many delegates spoke, the keynote speaker, Professor Anna Lawson of the Centre for Disability Studies, stood out for her analysis of disabled people’s situation.

Professor Lawson noted that cuts targeting disabled people are 9 times higher than for other groups, as according to the Duffy Centre for Welfare Reform. As a result, the 8% of the population who are disabled have borne 29% of all the austerity cuts. 12.6% of the UK population over 16 with impairments is living with severe deprivation, which was only 5.8% in 2008. In eight years of austerity, the figure has more than doubled.

The situation with accessibility is also concerning. 9% of disabled adults have difficulty getting into any room in their own homes. Also the English Housing Survey found only 6% of housing in 2013 had all four accessible features.[1]

This is part of a wider picture of deprivation amongst disabled people. In 2014, 6% of adults without impairments were at a risk of severe material deprivation. That figure was 18.6% for those of working age with impairments, and 29.4% for young people with an impairment.

Also in 2014, 18.4% of working age people with impairments were unable to afford a meal on every second day. By comparison, that was true of 7.5% of working age people without impairments, which foregrounds the disproportionate burden disabled people are carrying.

The presentation noted that since legal aid has been cut, disabled people have been unable to seek redress in the courts for discrimination. Due to the way disability laws work, disabled people are often only able to take people to court once they have been discriminated against, yet as that depends on access to justice, disability discrimination is going unchallenged. Consequently, the cuts have made it harder for disabled people to access justice.

Professor Lawson also described the effect of the end of the Independent Living Fund. According to the National Audit Office, there was a 7% reduction in expenditure on adult social care between 2011 – 12 and 2014 – 15. Moreover, 26% of long term care users had difficulty in finding out about personal budget systems.

The statistics paint the picture that a recession caused by financiers and government mis-spending was used to justify cuts that disproportionately hurt disabled people. The effects have reduced disabled people’s standards of living and contravened their human rights. Also, by placing more people in deprivation, austerity continues to reduce demand in society. However Professor Anna Lawson also applauded those disability organisations such as Disability Wales who were working hard on the broader spectrum of disability issues such as inclusion, autonomy and accessibility.

Professor Lawson noted that if we do come out of Europe, we should watch progress on disability issues so that the UK doesn’t fall behind. Only this year has the Council of Europe produced a new directive that requires accessibility to be factored into public projects.

The conference also featured updates from Disability Wales’s projects Enabling Wales, Citizens Directed Co-operatives Cymru (CDCC), and Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL).

The Enabling Wales Project has announced that two groups have been selected to create independent living centres in Wales. These will be in Ceredigion and Flintshire. The former will be run by Disabled People Together, Mencap Ceredigion, and Creative Lifestyle Solutions. In Flintshire, the independent living centre will be run by ‘The FDF’.

The Citizens Directed Co-operatives Cymru project has hired a Cooperative Development Manager to help with the creation of a direct payments co-operative in Monmouthshire. The project aims to create a citizen led co-operative of disabled people that can hire care services for its members. This should increase the uptake of direct payments while empowering disabled people.

The Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning project (DRILL) has taken its first tranche of research applications. The project is facilitating the co-production of research between disabled people and academic researchers in order to identify new areas for study and remove any unhelpful bias from studies. The focus is not of producing research on disabled people but rather with disabled people. It is thought to be the first time this approach has been taken.

Moreover, Emma Jones a spokesperson from the fundraising organisation Local Giving gave a presentation. Ms Jones provided information about Local Giving’s current Big Lottery Fund scheme to provide free fundraising support to 250 Welsh charity and volunteering groups for a year. The scheme could help big or small disability groups fundraise to pay for projects that they would like to complete, and the free support includes fundraising training. Also in the project, there is the ability to add gift aid onto donations, as well as match funding opportunities.