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Disability: Independent Living

Volume 700: debated on Tuesday 25 March 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they are taking to support independent living for disabled people.

My Lords, the Government published their five-year, cross-government strategy for independent living on 3 March. The strategy sets out a five-year plan which aims to extend self-determination and choice to all disabled people and to enable greater access to housing, employment, health, education, transport and other opportunities.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Is she aware that the Government’s strategy document is an outstanding piece of work except for its recommendation that the Government should wait for five years before deciding whether they will need legislation? I am convinced that it is important to have legislation now. The case for that was spelt out in the debates in this House in recent weeks on my Bill on independent living. If the Government were to accept the aims of my Bill it would be widely approved throughout the country and in Parliament—with the exception, of course, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not expect him to agree initially but I hope that when he sees how beneficial the Bill could be, he might be persuaded to change his mind.

My Lords, my noble friend knows that he is held in the highest regard in this House and elsewhere, particularly for his work on independent living. The Government support the principles underpinning the Disabled Persons (Independent Living) Bill but there are two important reasons why we do not think it is necessary at this stage. First, significant progress is being made in support of people with disabilities through the strategy that was announced earlier this month, individual budgets, additional support for carers, support for user-led organisations, Putting People First and the housing strategy. Secondly, the independent living strategy sets out in detail how progress will be measured and provides a commitment to take action if this annual measurement indicates that barriers to independent living remain. It is important that the implementation and monitoring of the new strategy means that year on year we will be able to assess whether it is necessary to return to this issue, including legislation, and, indeed, that may be before five years.

My Lords, on measuring progress, the noble Baroness will be aware that the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit recommended in 2005 that a centre for independent living or an equivalent user-led organisation should be established in every local authority by 2010. What action has been taken with the Local Government Association and/or individual local authorities with a view to delivering that commitment? Are the Government on course to meet it?

My Lords, user-led organisations are local organisations that are run and controlled by disabled people. The focus of Department of Health-led work is on organisations of adults, including older people, and families of disabled people. We are committed to supporting them. Funding has been made available to provide information and advice, advocacy and peer support, assistance with self-assessment, support in using individual budgets, support to recruit and employ personal assistants, disability equality training and consumer audits of local services.

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister will know that there is some anxiety about the monitoring of the independent living plan. Can she tell us more about the Government’s plans for monitoring its implementation?

My Lords, the strategy was launched on 3 March. The review was conducted over the previous 18 months using a principle of co-production involving disabled people at every stage. The strategy is jointly owned by five government departments. This partnership between disabled people and the Government does not end with the publication of the strategy; it will be equally, if not more, important as we move forward to implement and monitor its progress. The Government have launched a consultation process that will run until June. Disabled people and their organisations will be involved in working out the detail of how to implement the strategy, how the annual monitoring should take place, who will be involved in it and how progress will then be assessed.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that what she has just said about monitoring the strategy proves how difficult it has been so to do? We already know that best practice in this field will address most of the problems. Are the Government convinced that there is any point in waiting if the same problems are going to be identified?

My Lords, the Government’s strategy is not about waiting; it is about implementing and getting on with this. It is about tackling barriers that have prevented disabled people having full choice in and control over how they go about their lives. It is about ensuring that health, social care and other services are delivered in ways that enable disabled people to have choice in and control over how their needs are met. It is intended to make a real impact on the lives of disabled people now, but it will be monitored annually.

My Lords, the Minister spoke about dissolving barriers. What progress has been made in extending registered disabled housing across the country?

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Andrews recently announced funding of £4.9 billion over the next three years to support people through our housing strategy. That will help more than 1 million vulnerable people each year, including older people, disabled people and those with mental health problems, to live independently in their own accommodation. In addition, the Government recently announced increases in the disabled facilities grant. It will increase by £25 million in 2008-09, which represents a significant rise of 20 per cent.

My Lords, community care law experts argue that the current community care legislative regime profoundly handicaps disabled people. Does my noble friend acknowledge that there are significant shortcomings in the current legislation?

My Lords, I do not think that there are significant shortcomings in the legislation, but it is clear, and will be particularly so following the Second Reading debate on the Health and Social Care Bill today, that there is a great deal of work to be done. There is no doubt that services are patchy; there is no doubt that access to advice is very important. That is why monitoring is so important.

My Lords, do the Government still agree that for some of our most intellectually impaired people the most independent form of living can be in our intentional and village communities? If so, will the Government continue to support those under their new plans?

My Lords, the Government are in favour of a diverse range of support, including small and independent living communities.