Over 30 women and men attended the workshop including people with disabilities in different situations and from different boroughs in London. After an introduction by Nina Lopez-Jones, Claire Glasman from WinVisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities) gave an overview of legal rights to community care services and the impact of recent Department of Health guidelines on charging for community care. Mary Hynes, from Visually Impaired in Camden, reported on the new eligibility criteria, whereby all users of homecare are being re-assessed, their needs graded as low, medium, substantial or critical, and services provided or withdrawn accordingly. David Roberts from solicitors firm Tyrer Roxburgh reported on a precedent case where they represented the first woman wheelchair user to win compensation under the Human Rights Act for humiliation while she was left in inaccessible housing. A woman with Sickle Cell Anemia spoke about how common it is for people’s needs to be under-assessed. Prisca Allen from the Greater London Pensioners Association spoke about free personal care available in Scotland since July 2002.
Didi Rossi gave an account of the problems people with disabilities had faced during the “consultation” process on community care charges, in Camden and elsewhere. People in Tower Hamlets had pressed the Council not to charge, and were campaigning against the rationing of services which could result in people being forced into residential care. A number of councils, including Derbyshire, do not charge, and individuals are successfully refusing to pay.
The lively discussion which followed initially focused on a point raised by a woman wheelchair user who asked about the responsibility of voluntary sector organizations to represent the interests and needs of people with disabilities on issues such as this. People in the workshop felt that these organisations should vigorously oppose charges and rationing, and other threats to services.
Participants then spoke in detail of the discrimination and difficulties they faced getting adequate community care, the double injustice of being asked to pay out of disability benefits for these services, and needs which are no longer met or which are ignored, for example, provision for women laryngectomees, the closure of mental health day centres and the lack of social workers who can communicate with deaf people. In some cases the brutality of service providers was horrifying. It was proposed that participants in the workshop prepare a list of what has been lost, and neglected needs which could be circulated for people to add to, and publicised. This would break down the isolation that people feel when facing this kind of discrimination and bring home how widespread it is. It was also proposed that people find out what organizations had said during the consultation. It is likely that the views of organisations have been misrepresented in the official reports used to justify policy decisions.