On 9 February 2012, the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) and the group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left are holding a hearing in the European Parliament entitled ‘Defend the Right of Independent Living – How the EU’s austerity policy is undermining the lives of people with disabilities’. Some of the leading European independent living and anti-poverty activists will present evidence of the impact EU’s austerity policy has had on disabled people in the Member States and together with Members of the European Parliament identify actions to be taken at the European level.
‘With or without the financial crisis, we are among the poorest and most socially excluded in Europe’, warned Jamie Bolling, ENIL’s Executive Director. According to the EU Disability Strategy 2010-2020, the incidence of poverty for persons with disabilities is 70 per cent higher than average. Employment rates for persons with very severe and severe disabilities are respectively 19.5 per cent and 44.1 per cent. Combine this with the cuts to essential services such as personal assistance, access to employment and housing support, and the consequences could be catastrophic.
Rather than portray disabled people as benefit scroungers and fraudsters, as has been the case in many countries, ENIL asks for the focus to move to the contribution persons with disabilities can make to the society, given the right support. In Sweden, the Personal Assistance Policy, besides establishing the right to live independently for persons with certain disabilities, created 60,000 jobs for people who would otherwise mostly live on unemployment benefits. Given that the number of people out of work in the euro zone rose last December to 16.5 million, surely the answer is not to push even more people into unemployment.
As well as not making economic sense in the long run, ENIL and the European United Left/Nordic Green Left argue that cuts to Independent Living services will seriously undermine the rights of persons with disabilities. In the UK, for example, a report by the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) found that 90 per cent of disabled people’s organisations feared cuts could force many into poverty or institutional care. This goes against the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by many Member States and the European Community.
‘ENIL calls on the European Parliament and the European Commission to safeguard the rights of persons with disabilities in the EU. This is the only way Europe can uphold its commitments under the Disability Convention and its own strategies to increase employment and combat poverty and social exclusion’, concluded Ms. Bolling.
“Today’s austerity policies mean that the clock is being turned backwards – all social gains are in danger. I believe there is an urgent need for a European wide and united fight back of all layers in society that are bearing the brunt of this social onslaught. The trade union movement needs to play an important role in this fight back”, Paul Murphy Socialist Party MEP for Dublin concludes.
ENIL hearing ‘Defend the Right of Independent Living – How the EU’s austerity policy is undermining the lives of people with disabilities’ is taking place in the European Parliament in Brussels on 9 February 2012 (15.00 – 18.00, Room A1G2).
To watch the hearing in real time, please click on www.guengl.eu.
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