The European Network on Independent Living – ENIL and i-living, the Independent Living Organization of Greece, welcome the Greek Deinstitutionalisation Strategy, Action Plan and other accompanying documents, published by the European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) last month. The Strategy is an important step in recognising the need to move away from institutional care settings and to realise the right to live independently and to live included in the community for children, adults and older people with disabilities in Greece. However, we are concerned that the Strategy does not go far enough and will perpetuate the segregation of many disabled people through placement in so-called “Supported Living Homes” and “family-type” residential care for children. We also regret that the concerns and suggestions of ENIL member in Greece, i-living, were not taken sufficiently into account. For these reasons, we believe the Strategy will not achieve its stated aim, which is compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
On a positive note, we welcome those parts of the Strategy which express commitment to upholding the rights of disabled people, strengthening Greece’s social welfare system and a commitment to taking seriously international human rights law, as mandated by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the CRPD. We also welcome the commitment to closing institutions in Greece and the recognition that this action is in line with the human rights approach to disability, as laid out in Article 19 of the CRPD. In relation to children with disabilities especially, there is a strong focus on actions to support families, to ensure access to education, early intervention, transition to adulthood and other crucial community-based services.
However, we also note with concern the following parts of the Strategy and Action Plan:
- There is no concrete timeline for the phasing out of institutions, indicating that it could take years or decades to fully close down all institutions.
- There is no intention to close down medium and small-scale institutions. In fact, the Strategy seeks to increase the number of “Supported Living Homes” for disabled people, “resembling the size of a common family-type environment”. Apart from one mention of social housing, in relation to tackling poverty, there is no discussion of the need for accessible and affordable housing, and how to achieve this, within either the Strategy or the Action plan. In order to fully realise independent living, disabled people need access to mainstream housing options, rather than group housing.
- There is also a very worrying reference in the Strategy to “family-like” settings for disabled children, which according to the CRPD, cannot ever replace a real family. In fact, the General Comment 5 states that, when it comes to children, anything other than family-based care is institutional.
- The suggestion that disabled teenagers should be placed in small group homes, as a transition to independent living, also runs contrary to Article 19 CRPD. Instead of suggesting that independent living can be “learned” within group settings, the strategy should have promoted the introduction of independent living schemes, such as personal assistance, to help adolescents and young people in their transition to adulthood.
- References within the Strategy to day-care centres, respite services and sheltered employment activates are also concerning, as they go against the Articles, 7, 14, 19 and 27 of the CRPD. (Nb: These CRPD articles should take precedence over Article 20 of the CRC, when implementing the deinstitutionalisation strategy).
- Finally, we note that the strategic documents refer to “supported and independent living”, which can result in independent living being interpreted as ‘not including support’, or ‘not suitable for individuals with complex support needs’. In fact, according to the CRPD, independent living is about having choice and control over one’s life, and it applies equally to all disabled people. It is discriminatory to deny any disabled person the right to independent living on account of support services not being in place.
Considering that the Greek Deinstitutionalisation Strategy acknowledges the importance of the CRPD, it is vital that the CRPD is treated as paramount and its articles fulfilled in earnest.
The European Network on Independent Living and i-living, the Independent Living Organization of Greece, therefore call upon the Greek Government to take the following steps:
- To adopt the CRPD into national law, and to bring its Deinstitutionalisation Strategy and other strategic documents fully in line with the CRPD and its General Comments. Among other, institutionalisation in any form, including in small-scale institutions, must be recognised as a form of discrimination.
- To include in the strategy definitions of the key terms, such as ‘independent living’, making sure these are fully aligned with the CRPD.
- To accelerate the adoption of Personal Assistance (PA) legislation, so that disabled people are enabled to live wherever and however they wish to, with the aid of personal assistance. Taking these actions will ensure that the commitments to PA support that are referenced in the DI strategy are fully realised in practice, and that the process of deinstitutionalisation can go forward with more ease.
- To commit to not spending any state, private or European Union funds on medium and small-scale institutions, as these are not viable alternatives to large scale institutions.
- To ensure that all children with disabilities are able to grow up in a family, without exception, by providing all families with the support they need to bring up their child.
- To fully involve disabled people in any decisions about their lives, and to ensure that the interests of other groups, such as families, services providers, the church or the local authorities, do not override disabled people’s right to live independently and being included in the community.