Jean Lambert is a Green Party member of the European Parliament for London. She is an active member of the Disability Intergroup and is also a regular defender of the right of Independent Living at the European Level. She is a member of the European Parliament Committee of Employment and Social Affairs where the impact of the crisis on the living conditions and the rights of people with disabilities was recently discussed. Jean Lambert is currently working on an own initiative report, “Impact of the crisis on access to care for vulnerable groups”. In this interview with ENIL she speaks about this initiative and about the effects of European austerity measures on vulnerable groups in all European countries. She has been very supportive of ENIL’s work on a Proposal for a Resolution of the European Parliament on the effects of cuts in public spending on persons with disabilities in the European Union and in this interview she gives valuable advice on how we can influence disability policy at a European Level.
Hi Jean, when and why did you decide to dedicate yourself to politics?
I became involved with the Greens in the late 70s as there seemed to be so many problems that single-issue campaigning just wouldn’t be enough – we needed a bigger political change.
Why your interest in the European level?
I am passionate about working for change on important issues all over Europe. Working at the European level provides a broader perspective and pushes you to look outwards and the influence you can have working on laws which then need to be transposed into 27 Member States, national legislation is not insignificant!
What’s your job as an MEP, what do you do in the European parliament?
I try to bring the concerns of constituents and organisations I meet with in London to the doors of the European Parliament, to ensure that they have a voice in the decision making process. I sit on the Employment and Social Affairs Committee and Civil Liberties Committee, and also Chair Parliament’s delegation for relations with South Asia, which keeps me very busy!
For a long time ENIL has had a lot of cooperation with, and support from the Greens, in particular from you and your office. You are an active member of the Disability Intergroup, but also you regularly defend the right of Independent Living on the European level. Why is this an issue you are passionate about?
I think personal autonomy is really important: people should be able to develop as independent individuals and have a degree of choice about their lives. Society has a responsibility to enable that.
You are a member of the European Parliament Committee on Employment & Social Affairs where the impact of the crisis on the living conditions and the rights of disabled people was discussed. Can you comment on this?
The Employment Committee recently tabled an ‘Oral Question’ to Parliament’s Plenary on the impact of austerity on the living conditions of people with disabilities, which was a direct result of lobbying from ENIL.
So, the Oral Question from the Employment committee was debated in the EU Parliament on March 12th 2013. How did this debate go?
I think that the debate went well, it was focused and picked up on many of the issues ENIL have been lobbying on in recent months and provided a clear forum for discussion on the worrying trends in many Member States on the impact of the cuts in public spending on people with disabilities. The question is now how to change the situation on the ground.
As you know ENIL wants a strong signal from Europe to the member states to stop and reverse their cuts on Independent Living, Personal Assistance and community based services. That is why we are campaigning for our own resolution proposal. Last month’s debate in the EU Parliament didn’t lead to a vote on a resolution. Why not?
The reason that there wasn’t a resolution was due to the rather complex decision making process between the President of Parliament and the Presidents of Political Groups. Unfortunately, there was not enough support from a majority of political groups for the oral question to be accompanied by a resolution (there is always a great deal of competition to get issues on to the plenary agenda!.
Do you think our objective to realize a European Parliament resolution to counter the effect of austerity policies on disabled people, is realistic? What could be the biggest obstacles?
Given that the oral question has very recently been adopted and debated it may be politically difficult to gain support for a resolution at this stage – work would also need to be done to gain support from those political groups who did not support a resolution the last time around! Some would see this an issue for national competence as it deals directly with social systems and local service provision.
Of course the cuts and austerities are affecting many other groups in many ways. You are currently working on an own initiative report “Impact of the crisis on access to care for vulnerable groups”. Can you explain what this report is about and what it is aiming for?
My report aims to draw attention to the concerning impacts of cuts in public spending on care and healthcare services and to voice some of the outrageous things now happening. As you are well aware, there are worrying developments in many Member States when it comes to cuts in care services, and preventative health programmes, which are particularly affecting a broad range of vulnerable groups. The report includes a number of recommendations to both the European Commission and Member States calling for significant changes to current policies.
Is it a possibility/danger that our plea for a European Parliament resolution against cuts on Independent Living gets somehow ‘lost’ or swallowed up in this broader scope of the effect of the crisis on vulnerable groups? For ENIL it isn’t primarily about access to care, but about defending our human rights. Many MEPs won’t know the exact difference and wouldn’t see the need for taking separate measures. How do you see this?
We have picked up the point about the move backwards in some countries towards institutional care and away from independent living and we have certainly made links to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, so we have something “on the record” that can be built on. However, you’re right, the focus of the report is different but it’s what was possible.
Can you give us good advice on how we can influence disability policy on a European level? Any tips & tricks for us?
Building contacts and good working relationships with relevant actors in the Commission, Parliament and National Permanent Representations, as well as working with other organisations lobbying on similar issues at the EU level is crucial. Working with your national level representatives to lobby those at the national level who have an influence over discussions at the EU level is also important.
How can we increase pressure on the EU Parliament & Commission to stop the member states that are implementing these policies? Do you think the Strasbourg Freedom Drive is an effective way to put pressure on our political leaders?
I think that the Strasbourg Freedom Drive is a great way to raise awareness of the issues and show your interest and presence in the institutions. However, given the power and influence that National Governments have in deciding upon both EU law and the measures to be implemented in their own Member States, making contact with them is also crucial: it’s a dual approach. MEPs need to feed into their parties at the national level as there a real limits as to what the Commission can do.
How is the situation for people with disabilities in the U.K.? Are they affected by austerities?
Unfortunately yes, recent changes to the UK benefits system stand to have a negative impact on people with disabilities. The shift from the ‘Disability living allowance’ to a ‘Personal independence payment’ will threaten the ability of many people with a disability to live independently. There are also concerns about additional checks in the system: every assessment is stressful – particularly when you see some of the bizarre decisions made
Are you in contact with the Independent Living movement in the U.K.? Is that important for you?
Probably not as much as I should be – especially given what I’ve said about the link between the national and the European levels. There’s room for improvement on my part.
Did we miss anything during the interview you would like to share with our readers?
As so often, ENIL has the bases covered!
Thank you for your time Jean. Hope to see you marching with us in September on the Freedom Drive, you are kindly invited!
Thank you, I aim to be there along with other MEPs.