Activities outside Parliament

Speech at Pontypridd by Dr Hywel Francis MP, Chair Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) for launch of the consultation on the Welsh Government’s Framework for Action on Independent Living

20th September 2012

Thanks to Jane Hutt and the Welsh Government for inviting me in my capacity as Chair of Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights. And thanks also for the constructive engagement of Jane Hutt and her colleagues with my Committee’s inquiry into Independent Living of Disabled People. Baroness Jane Campbell and the late Lord Jack Ashley should be thanked for their work over the years. In the JCHR’s Report, we commended the Welsh Government’s decision to produce its framework for independent living, having previously heard evidence from witnesses such as Rhian Davies of Disability Wales (who will be speaking later) that Wales did not at the time have such a framework or strategy.

Could I say at the very outset as a longstanding – and still today – enthusiastic supporter of democratic devolution I believe in a constructive engagement between Wales and Westminster. Jane and I have ‘form’ on this, not only as fellow campaigners for devolution but more particularly our partnership approach which saw the passing of my own Wales and England Carers Equal Opportunities Act in 2004 with her full support as the then Health Minister. It is very healthy that Jane continues this engagement with disability bodies which we had developed with carers’ bodies like Carers Wales nearly a decade ago.

I am pleased to see that the Framework is being proposed in Wales explicitly based on the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, (UNCRPD) which is something we called for in relation to the UK Government’s forthcoming Disability Strategy. Their “Fulfilling Potential: next steps” document is due out shortly. We called for that strategy to set out a clear plan of action to make progress with regard to independent living as defined by Article 19, with milestones and monitoring mechanisms, and called for it to be co-produced with disabled people.

Such strategies are important because the problems associated with independent living are cross-cutting and cumulative. A proper strategy based on respectful and real engagement can help to address some of the problems identified in my Committee’s report, especially in regard to implementation of the UN Convention generally, and its role in policy making.

The Convention was ratified by the UK in 2009. It seeks to “promote, protect and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms to all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.”

The right to independent living is specifically enshrined in Article 19, which formed the basis of our inquiry.

Article 19 in full:

States party to the present Convention recognize the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others, and shall take effective and appropriate measures to facilitate full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of this right and their full inclusion and participation in the community, including by ensuring that:

  • Persons with disabilities have the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others and are not obliged to live in a particular living arrangement;
  • Persons with disabilities have access to a range of in-home, residential and other community support services, including personal assistance necessary to support living and inclusion in the community, and to prevent isolation or segregation from the community;
  • Community services and facilities for the general population are available on an equal basis to persons with disabilities and are responsive to their needs.

Implementation of the Convention in the UK

Of particular relevance to Wales is the Committee’s finding that devolved administrations had taken different approaches to implementing Article 19. Scotland and Wales were particularly commended for their approach.

However, we identified potential difficulties as a result of devolution in that the UK as a whole was the signatory to the Convention, and ultimately responsible for its implementation, but that most of the relevant policy areas had been devolved. This could create a certain tension between the devolved administrations and the Westminster Government as to differences in implementation across the nations.

The Committee urged the UK Government to acknowledge their responsibility for ensuring the implementation of the Convention and argued that the exact mechanism by which compliance across the UK can be guaranteed may need further consideration. The response of Maria Miller, the Minister at the time, to the Committee made it clear that the UK Government would “not seek to impose detailed requirements on the devolved administrations in this regard”. This leaves unanswered the question of what would happen were one of the nations thought to be implementing the Convention inadequately.

The Committee also found that there was uneven compliance with the Convention across local authorities, and that the advent of localism and changes to public authority duties in England under the Equality Act 2010 had made it unclear as to how the Government were ensuring compliance across the country.

One particular difference highlighted by the Committee was that the specific duties in England under section 149 of the Equality Act no longer required the involvement of disabled people in decision-making, whereas in Wales the equivalent duty did require this.


We also found that the Convention did not seem to have played a significant role in development of policy at UK level, which is another reason why strategies such as the one being launched today are so important.

The Committee recommended that the Government make a clear commitment, similar to that they have already given in respect of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to give due consideration to the Convention in future when developing policy. The Government have yet to respond on this point.

Impact of current reforms

The Committee also examined the likelihood that reforms being undertaken under the Comprehensive Spending Review would impact on the right to independent living. This is the context in which any strategy has to operate at the moment, as acknowledged in the Framework.

The Committee concluded that current reforms risked retrogression of the UK’s obligations under Article 19. We received a substantial amount of evidence on the likely effects of funding reductions for local authorities, replacement of DLA with Personal Independent Payments, caps on housing benefit and closure of the Independent Living Fund. There was particular concern about the way all these changes might interact, and their cumulative effect on disabled people.


Particular issues now and for the future include:

  • Restriction of eligibility criteria for local authority social care support, which would limit the number of people likely to receive help.
  • Replacement of DLA is likely to result in significantly fewer people receiving benefit. The Committee argued that the new assessments should continue to be based on the actual extra cost incurred as a result of disability (as it is this extra cost which presents a barrier to independent living).
  • Closure of Independent Living Fund (ILF) to new applicants, with no ring-fenced alternative funding.

The Committee therefore recommended that the Office for Disability Issues (ODI), the devolved administrations and local authorities monitor the impact of reform and spending decisions on independent living.

At the time of the Committee’s Report, the Welfare Reform Bill was still passing through Parliament. It is now an Act, and relevant delegated legislation to implement its provisions is now being considered. The impact of the changes will become apparent in due course and we as the Joint Committee on Human Rights are likely to re-visit the question of the impact of the Act on the human rights of disabled people.


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