Does Italy Care about Independent Living?

Does Italy Care about Independent Living?

Italy ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the Optional Protocol in 2009. This article, written by ENIL’s Board member Marina Voudouri, has taken stock of what has been done in Italy since then.


Let us start with the recent review of Italy by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee). After the review process started at the beginning of 2016, with the Italian Government’s Official Report, the information from civil society, the List of Issues, and the constructive dialogue between Italy and the Committee that took place in Geneva on 24 and 25 August, the CRPD Committee published its Concluding Observations on 31 August. All the documents are available here (in Italian).

The Committee’s Concluding Observations strongly criticize the Italian government on numerous Articles of the CRPD and on their lack of implementation. Specifically, the most critical aspects are relative to Articles 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9; 11, 12, 13, 14; 16, 17; 19, 21, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33.

The only positive aspect that the Committee noted was the following:

The Committee notes with appreciation the decision on the National Disability Action Plan in 2010 and the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence – the Istanbul Convention – in 2013.  It commends the State party which has, for the last 3 decades, been striving to implement its inclusive education system free of segregation.”.

As regards Article 19 and the concept of living independently in the community, the Committee expressed their severe concern regarding Italy’s policies:

“The Committee is deeply concerned about the trend to re-institutionalise persons with disabilities and that funds are not being reallocated from institutions towards promoting and ensuring independent living for all persons with disabilities within their community. The Committee further notes with concern the gendered consequences of the current policies where women are “forced” to remain within the family as caregivers of their peers with disabilities instead of being employed in the labour market.

The Committee recommends: a) implementing safeguards to retain the right to autonomous independent living across all regions; and, b) redirect resources from institutionalisation to community-based services and increase budget support to enable persons with disabilities to live independently across the country and have equal access to services including personal assistance.

Not only are the funds directed to independent living very low and insufficient, but also the Parliament has recently approved a new law that incentivizes disabled people without family support to move into small institutions or even transform their houses into small group homes and transfer the management to third parties (e.g. foundations, cooperatives and other intermediaries). This is telling for two reasons. Firstly, because it becomes evident that Italian policies take for granted that it should be the families to fully or almost fully assist their disabled members up to an advanced age of their parents or up to their death. It is also telling because it shows that the main alternative for disabled persons is a life in small institutions, which are significantly funded by this law, instead of having a possibility and choice to live where, how and with whom they decide, with adequate funding.

Just a few days after the publishing of the Concluding Observations, on 16-17 September 2016, the National Conference on Disability took part in Florence, organized by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. Very sadly, no mention was made of the CRPD Committee’s review and there was no evidence of the Italian Government taking it seriously. On the contrary, the Ministry presented the so-called Biennial Plan of Action, avoiding to mention the fact that the previous Biennial Plan of Action has not to-date been implemented. The question that naturally comes to one’s mind is: If the government has not respected and not put in practice the previous Plan of Action, what will happen to the new one? Is it destined to be another declaration of nice intentions that will just remain in the archives of the Conference and of the governmental decrees?

As for the concept of independent living, the organizers of the Conference did not take seriously the CRPD Committee’s recommendations and almost ignored this topic. That is, during the morning plenary session on Friday 16, the Ministry representative stated that the topic of independent living will be treated only in the group session in the afternoon, that is, when there were eight parallel group sessions and six workshops. Even though the group session dedicated to independent living had the highest number of subscribers, far bigger than any other group, the organizers’ message was clear: it is not worth talking about during the plenary session.

Following this announcement, several independent living activists strongly protested and occupied the stage, reading also the CRPD Committee’s Concluding Observations on Article 19. Our protest led to a 20-minute informal meeting with the General Secretary of State of the Ministry of Social Affairs and to an out-of-programme speech during the plenary and concluding session of Saturday morning dedicated to Independent Living. The speech was held by the person chosen by the protesting activists, Raffaello Belli. One of the founders of the Independent Living movement in Italy and a member of ENIL’s Advisory Board, Raffaello clearly and efficiently described what Independent Living means and what measures are necessary in order to transform Italian politics in that direction. Italian-speaking readers can listen to the speech in this video.

What is missing in Italy, to begin with, is statistical data that adequately shows the amount of funds dedicated to institutions and to living independently in the community. The other fact that becomes evident, also noted by the CRPD Committee, is that there is not a general disability policy in Italy but each Region decides different things, resulting in discrimination among Italian citizens around the country and also in the impossibility to move to a different Region without losing the acquired personal assistance. This is due to the modification to the Italian Constitution few years ago, handing down to the Regions the jurisdiction on social affairs. What is thus highly needed is a norm that recognizes independent living as a human right and not as a mere social affairs matter, that should be decided on by the central State, for all citizens. Bringing the same concern to European Union, there should be an EU Directive that recognises the right for people with disabilities to live an independent life in the community. Such Directive should regulate the details which should apply equally to all Member States and should guarantee the freedom of movement within the EU for disabled citizens.

Marina Voudouri

ENIL Board Member

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