Politicians of all parties have rightly paid tribute to Jack Ashley after his death on 20th April aged 89. Not one of them mentioned the fact that he tirelessly pushed for an Independent Living Bill. These very same politicians blocked, delayed and ran out of time on dates at which this bill was to go through readings. The Independent Living Bill set out the basics that disabled people should be entitled to, to ensure real independent living. When I spoke to him in 2008 on behalf of the European Network on Independent Living he said:
My Bill on independent living is designed to sweep away the scandalously inadequate system of services for disabled people and to replace it with one which is based on freedom, choice, control and participation. At present, independent living is a mirage. Consequently, the present system means there are very few rights to services. For example, the very notion that the right to merely being washed and fed provides independence is bizarre. These conditions mean that disabled people have to fight for every concession rather than have services provided as of right.
Today, disabled people have no rights in their choice of where they live and who they live with, no legal entitlement to advocacy, no right to communication support and equipment, no right to portable support. They are trapped in a system which is slow, cumbersome and inflexible.
The Bill sets out clear principles for the delivery of support to disabled people and their families. For the first time social care, health and housing support will have a clear purpose set out in law. This would guarantee disabled people the services they are deprived of today.
Every disabled person would be guaranteed minimum outcomes which would focus on delivering the means to live an ordinary life, rather than the current “feed and clean” only culture.
Disabled people would be supported to define their own needs through self-assessment which would save time and money. Disabled people would have new rights to communication support and equipment, to independent advocacy, to support mental health needs and to palliative care and rehabilitation. This is merely the flavour of the Bill and there are many detailed proposals, all of which combine to present a very different picture of independent living from todays. This Bill has the potential to transform the lives of millions of disabled people in Britain. They are entitled to it and it is up to us, working together, to provide it.”
He also said
Throughout my Parliamentary career, I have fought for all disabled people to have the same choice, dignity, freedom and control as every other citizen. These are the central principles of ‘Independent Living’.
One politician who will be sadly missed