Brussels, 4 December – The International Day of Persons with Disabilities, on 3 December, is an opportunity to take stock of progress achieved towards the right to independent living for all. It is a day to celebrate, but also to protest, against the continued denial of basic human rights that allow disabled people to live dignified lives.
In 2017, we have seen the continued adverse effects of austerity and cuts on disabled people’s opportunity to access independent living. From Sweden, where thresholds to receive support have been increased, to the United Kingdom, where increasingly, young disabled people with high support needs are being told their only option is residential care.
Across Europe, we have recorded a worrying trend towards funding the building and renovation of institutions. From the Government of Wallonia, Belgium, pledging to invest 63 million Euros in institutional care, to the Slovenian Government tendering to establish a new 80-bed institution.
In many countries, we are witnessing the replacing of large residential institutions with other types of segregated settings. From the Estonian care villages to small group homes in Bulgaria, countries that started deinstitutionalization reforms using EU funds have failed to understand the true meaning of independent and community living.
The theme of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities is Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all; in Europe, the focus is on citizenship. For the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL), to achieve sustainable and resilient societies, where disabled people can exercise their rights as citizens, requires everybody to have access to independent living and choice and control over their lives.
Institutionalisation, in any shape or form, does not support sustainable and resilient societies. This was made clear in this year’s General Comment No 5 on Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, on the right to live independently and to be included in the community. A much needed clarification of the States Parties’ obligations, the General Comment makes it clear that any available funding should be used “to develop inclusive and accessible independent living services”.
ENIL will keep supporting our membership to be active citizens within the European community, and will ensure that disabled people’s rights and issues continue to be raised at all levels in society. We welcome the recent proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights and the continued development of the European Accessibility Act. We hope that, through the work of the European institutions and of disabled people’s organisations, every day of 2018 can provide opportunities for disabled people to be actively included in developing communities and a European society that values and acknowledges all of its citizens.