A Message from Sandra Wheatley, Chair – Disability North.

Happy New Year to you – our service users/clients; our supporters and funders and valued volunteers.

At this point of the new year we as an organisation, as well as a board of trustees, are at a pivotal-point. As we moved from 2018 into 2019, we said goodbye to trustees who have served the organisation for many years, Toby Brandon, Malcolm Macourt, Tim Williams and Joe Ayton. They will be missed. We welcomed new Trustees who will, I’m sure bring their experience and expertise to strengthen the existing Board. Some of the trustee pen-portraits are now on-site, with more to come soon. I am really looking forward to serving Disability North as Chair of Trustees alongside such incredibly talented and dedicated people.

Disability North has undergone many changes during the past year – no organisation is immune from change and it is never easy to say goodbye to valued staff members too. It is our staff who are Disability North’s greatest asset and each one will continue to make an immense difference to every person who seeks the advice and support; guidance and advocacy we have provided for over 30 years. Our staff really are the best of the best and I want to emphasise how proud I am of our excellent reputation and the dedication, commitment and enthusiasm of each member of staff, and for the leadership and example Victoria Armstrong shows as our CEO. Her professionalism, expertise and dedication have once again proved to be invaluable during 2018.

As we move into a new year it is that opportunity to embrace just what ‘new’ means that excites me. Innovation, change, originality, and uniqueness – all elements of what Disability North is, and will continue to be, and what the new year will bring as we grasp the potential to innovate and change. We will further develop our services to ensure we keep abreast of the myriad of changes to the welfare benefits system.

We will continue to inform and educate those who will listen, and some who need to; to raise awareness that disabled people may be more visible in today’s society, thanks to changes in legislation (DDA1995) and more recently the Equality Act 2010, but our voice, their voice, still needs to be heard. We will challenge the injustices of the welfare system and we will continue to promote inclusion, independence and choice as we have done for decades. We will champion the role of carers and families who support and care for those affected by any disability, mental health issue, learning disabilities or are marginalised due to impairment.

Our work isn’t done – we do have incredibly dedicated and experienced staff who do have the support and backing of an equally dedicated board of trustees who will ensure that, whatever the challenges or changes we face, we will continue to provide a service that is second to none to the people of Newcastle upon Tyne and beyond.

This platform will highlight and showcase our achievements and services throughout the year. So, watch this space – there are exciting times ahead!

Sandra Wheatley signature

Campaigning disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have set out their demands for a new national independent living service that would eliminate the postcode lottery in support, and finally make the right to independent living a reality.

The Independent Living for the Future document has been developed over the last 14 months under the banner of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), whose members include Disabled People Against Cuts, Inclusion London, People First (Self Advocacy), Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, The Alliance for Inclusive Education and Shaping Our Lives.

ROFA will now seek support for the document from its members, political parties, disabled people, DPOs and other organisations.

Independent Living for the Future is based on principles laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Article 19 of the convention describes how countries signed up to the convention – like the UK – must recognise the right of all disabled people “to live in the community, with choices equal to others”.

The new document describes how the rights in article 19 could be upheld through a new national independent living service, which would build on “what was most successful” about the former Independent Living Fund.

The new service would be “co-created between government and disabled people, funded through general taxation, managed by central government, led by disabled people, and delivered locally in co-production with disabled people”, says the document.

It would be free, non-means-tested and “provided on the basis of need, not profit”.

There would also be funding for DPOs to deliver local services, ensuring a range of options to support disabled people to live in the community and exercise choice and control over their support.

Priorities would include setting up a new independent living taskforce, led by disabled people, to develop plans for the service; and agreeing how to introduce a legal right to independent living, including an independent living bill of rights.

There would also be a need, says the new document, to educate the public about the benefits of investing in independent living support for disabled people.

The document also calls for the government’s Office for Disability Issues to be moved out of the Department for Work and Pensions and placed within either the Cabinet Office or the Government Equalities Office.

And it says there should be a strategy for investment in local user-led services alongside the closure of institutionalised, segregated settings including long-stay hospitals and assessment and treatment units.

The document points out that government austerity cuts have had “serious adverse impacts” on the rights contained in article 19, with the social care and mental health systems in crisis and disabled people’s rights being taken “dramatically backwards”.

It says that grassroots campaigning by disabled people since 2010 has focused heavily on the right to independent living, partly because activists are so proud of the independent living movement and its achievements.

It adds: “At a time when discrimination continues to exist legally, structurally and within many parts of society, daily living conditions are deteriorating and the odds against us seem overwhelming, it is enormously important to be able to draw on a source of pride that sits at the core of our shared identity.”

The ideas behind the document began to be discussed several years ago with disabled activists involved in the campaign set up in 2011 to stop the planned closure of the Independent Living Fund.

More recently, there have been discussions at the National Disabled People’s Summit in November 2017, the Independent Living Campaign Conference later that month, and a ROFA round table event last May.

10 January 2019,  News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com