The European Committee of Social Rights in Strasbourg has stated that the Belgian Government doesn’t provide enough support for disabled people. The verdict came after a complaint from a coalition of about 20 different disabled people’s organisations and parents associations, including ‘Onafhankelijk Leven’ (Independent Living Flanders) and ‘Ensemble Vie Autonome’ (CIL Wallonia).
The European Social Charter
The European Committee of Social Rights bases her critique on the European Social Charter. In this treaty the rights and freedoms, that need to be respected by the states that signed the charter, are anchored. Most articles however, are formulated as recommendations and are not binding.
The European Committee of Social Rights is in charge of the monitoring of the compliance of the charter by the contracting parties (most of the Council of Europe Member States). The committee consists of fifteen neutral members, elected by the Council of Europe. This institution makes annual conclusions and recommendations on the basis of country reports that are handed in by the states.
Besides that, certain international organisations have the right to file a complaint at the European Committee of Social Rights When this complaint has been declared receptive/valid, it will be investigated. That was the case this time.
In Belgium there is a structural shortage for most kinds of support for disabled people, including places in residential care institutions, day care centres and so on, but also there are waiting lists for Personal Assistance. At this moment in Flanders there are about 22.000 disabled persons a waiting list. About 6000 of them are waiting for a ‘PAB’ (personal assistance budget), many of them for several years.
In Wallonia and Brussels the situation is even worse. The waiting list problem has been an eyesore for ‘Onafhankelijk Leven’ for many years. Parking people for indefinite time on a waiting list for Personal Assistance and support they need and are entitled to is unacceptable for the Belgian Independent Living Movement.
Previously, the federal and regional governments have argued that there is no budget to solve this issue because of the financial crisis. This argument has been reprobated now by the European Committee of Social Rights. Belgium and his regional governments will have to make a concrete plan to resolve the waiting list problem and to guarantee the Rights enshrined in the European Social Charter which will be followed up by the Committee.
What does this mean?
The conviction of Belgium by Europe is especially moral in character and puts pressure on Belgian politicians but it doesn’t contain an immediate sanction.
More important is that it becomes possible for disabled people and their families to go to court and coerce more support from the government. This verdict makes clear that the government is at fault and that the absence or lack of support has a negative impact on the person with the support and his family.
Therefore individual complaints become receptive for the Belgian civil Court and penalties, money fines for every day the situation is not resolved, can be imposed by the judge. This seems to be a new tool disabled individuals can use in their fight for their rights.
Reactions on this verdict:
Koenraad Depauw, director of Onafhankelijk Leven: “We want to use all means that are available to make an independent life for disabled persons possible. We will look into how we can help our members to obtain support through this channel.”
In the upcoming weeks Onafhankelijk Leven will further investigate how people waiting for a Personal Assistance Budget can go to court to actually claim it.
Minister Jo Vandeurzen (Flemish minister of welfare):
Is this verdict a disgrace?
“no, it is an absolute encouragement to do more effort.”
“I never said I was going to work away the waiting lists in 5 years time. That is impossible. I’ve always said we do not only have to create more spaces in care but also we need to reconsider the whole care system.”
“last year 35% more help requests were answered than in 2011.”
“The care problem is more than a mathematic issue.”
Alexis Deswaef, lawyer and president of the French speaking league of human rights:
“At first the political authorities defended their selves by saying they didn’t see the extend of the problem, the last years they argue that there is no money.”
“Families get poorer caused by this policy, it is common that there is one parent that needs to stop working.”
“this is simply a degrading conviction for a country like Belgium that likes to give lessons in human rights to other countries. If the government ignores this conviction it will return like a boomerang with series of individual lawsuits.“