Today, the European Commission launched a new Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021 – 2030. The European Network on Independent Living – ENIL welcomes the Strategy, which will act as a roadmap for the EU institutions and Member States in the coming decade.
The strategy has three main themes: 1. Enjoying EU Rights; 2. Decent quality of life and living independently; and 3. Equal access and non-discrimination. Many of ENIL’s proposals have made it into the strategy, in particular the focus on independent living and the freedom of movement of disabled people within the EU. The important role of EU funds, both within and outside the EU is also acknowledged, as is the need to ensure that EU funds are not used to fund segregation and social exclusion.
The Strategy, which is also available in easy-read, highlights the main barriers to the enjoyment of rights set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and presents the actions the Commission will undertake until 2030. Key flagship initiatives are also presented, as is the implementation and monitoring framework for the new strategy. A part of the strategy is dedicated to actions to make the EU institutions themselves more compliant with the CRPD.
From ENIL’s perspective, the parts of the new strategy that are most relevant to the Independent Living movement are the following:
- Plans to expand the scope of the mutual recognition of disability status, to enable free movement between Member States;
- The expansion of the European Disability Card to all Member States by 2023, building on the pilot project;
- Guidance to Member States for improvements on independent living and inclusion in the community, by 2023, including through access to personal assistance schemes;
- Development of a framework for Social Services of Excellence, to improve service delivery;
- Addressing insufficient social protection and extra costs related to disability by providing guidance to support reforms of social protection systems in the Member States;
- Working to ensure the adoption of the Commission proposal for a horizontal non-discrimination directive;
- Research by the Fundamental Rights Agency into the situation of persons with disabilities living in institutions in relation to violence, abuse and torture;
- Monitoring how EU funding is used in countries outside the EU;
- Establishment of the Disability Platform by 2021, which will replace the existing High Level Group on Disability, and will help measure progress by Member States in implementing the CRPD Committee recommendations;
- Supporting Member States to use EU funds in compliance with the CRPD.
In summary, it is very positive that the Strategy puts so much emphasis on independent living and community inclusion, and recognises the continued institutionalisation and exclusion of disabled people in the EU and globally . The disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on disabled people is also rightly acknowledged throughout.
Where the Strategy, after the first reading, falls short, is its failure to highlight some of the ways disabled people continue to be segregated – by being placed in group homes and other types of residential care settings under the guise of ‘deinstitutionalisation’, by being directed toward day care centres and sheltered workshops, instead of jobs in the mainstream, by having to rely on family members and not being in control of their support, by continuing to be deprived of legal capacity. In this respect, no actions are proposed which would ensure compliance with the CRPD and its General Comments, and it remains to be seen how far the Commission’s guidance will go and whether it will be fully in line with the Convention. The lack of definitions of the key terms in the strategy, such as independent living, community-based services and personal assistance, may also leave room for interpretation.
Nevertheless, the launch of the new Disability Rights Strategy is a key development and ENIL will monitor and contribute to its implementation to the greatest extent possible, to ensure that it does lead to change at the local and national level. We will provide additional materials and opportunities for our members to discuss how best to use the Strategy in their advocacy work, in the coming months.
Find the strategy and the related materials on the European Commission webpage.
[Photo shows a part of the cover of the Disability Rights Strategy.]