Press Release: EU Structural Funds Used to Segregate Disabled People in Austria

Press Release: EU Structural Funds Used to Segregate Disabled People in Austria

Vienna and Brussels, 8 July 2020 – 7.5 million Euros of the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) have been used in Upper Austria to build institutions and sheltered employment facilities for disabled people. The investment went ahead despite Austria’s and the European Union’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the Fundamental Rights Charter and EU’s anti-discrimination law. Last week, Independent Living Austria – ILA (Selbstbestimmt Leben Österreich), based in Vienna, and the European Network on Independent Living – ENIL, based in Brussels, mounted a challenge against such use of EU funds, by submitting a formal complaint against the State Government of Upper Austria to the European Commission.

The organisations obtained documentation for six segregated living facilities and two sheltered workshops for disabled people, recently built and co-funded with EAFRD. All the projects are specialised facilities aimed exclusively at disabled people. They can be considered as institutional care settings, based on the criteria set out in General Comment 5 on Article 19 of the CRPD, issued by the CRPD Committee.

Bernardette Feuerstein, chair of Independent Living Austria, stated: “ILA is strictly against all measures that segregate persons with disabilities. Public funds, no matter of which origin, may not be used unlawfully. We are happy to reveal this problematic practice together with ENIL and hope that the necessary steps will be taken.”

In the complaint, ILA and ENIL expressed concern about the fact that, in Upper Austria, the majority of disabled people live in institutions and “work” in sheltered facilities, where they are not paid nor have other employment rights. According to the official statistics for 2018, 70 percent of disabled people – a total of 4,635 individuals – live in institutions, while only 1,746 receive support to live in their own homes, and a meagre 215 benefit from personal assistance. Funds provided by the European Union could facilitate access to rights and the social inclusion of disabled people, by developing the much needed community-based services in the region. Instead, they will reinforce the already existing system of segregation.

ILA and ENIL brought the complaint with the aim of getting the European Commission to take action against the Government of Upper Austria, such as launching infringement proceedings. The organisations believe that there is a strong legal basis for this to happen, as the right of disabled people to independent living, to work and employment, and protection from discrimination, are among the common values of the EU and enshrined in law. Further complaints might follow against other regions in Austria which use EAFRD to institutionalise disabled people.

Notes for the editors:

ILA is the nationwide advocacy organisation of the Independent Living Movement in Austria. As an umbrella organisation, ILA aims at creating preconditions for the independent living of persons with disabilities and their equality in all spheres of live. In line with the principle “Nothing about us without us” and the self-advocacy right of persons with disabilities, ILA represents and supports initiatives, organisations and individuals in their fight for equality and against discrimination. The aim is to achieve equality of persons with disabilities and to fully enforce their rights as citizens.

The European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) is a Europe-wide network of disabled people, with members throughout Europe. ENIL’s vision is of Europe where all disabled people are able to exercise choice and control over their lives, on an equal level with others; where they are valued members of the community and can enjoy all of their human rights, as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). ENIL’s mission is to advocate and lobby for Independent Living values, principles and practices, namely for a barrier-free environment, provision of personal assistance support and adequate technical aids, together making full citizenship of disabled people possible. ENIL’s activities target European, national and local administrations, politicians, media, and the general society. See: www.enil.eu

For additional information, please contact Bernadette Feuerstein (I LA), bernadette@selbstbestimmtleben.at, or Nataša Kokić (ENIL), natasa.kokic@enil.eu.

German version of the Press Release: Pressemitteilung: EU-Strukturfonds werden in Österreich zur Aussonderung von Menschen mit Behinderungen verwendet

Full text of the complaint is available here.

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