by Jim Elder-Woodward, Independent chairman, Scottish Independent Living Coalition

YOU don’t have to look too far, or listen too hard, to encounter disabled people’s despair, misery, and utter demoralisation, as they struggle just to exist in today’s Scotland.

Westminster’s welfare reform – that Orwellian phrase – has substantially reduced their income, with little help to find suitable employment. The new “self-directed” social care support has also been implemented haphazardly and ineptly, with little attention to the act’s goals: to increase disabled people’s opportunities to choose how to live and control their own support. Many people, both north and south of the Border, disabled or not, think social care support, itself, is on the verge of extinction.

With the forthcoming policy of free personal care for those under 65 in Scotland, many fear services may merely get people out of bed by mid-day; get them washed, dressed, fed and toileted; then leave them to watch telly all day, before being fed and watered, and put to bed around six in the evening. That’s the kind on life which leads to isolation, depression and physical deterioration – leading to more pressure on health care, not less.

For most adult disabled people, the satisfaction of their personal care needs is only the foundation on which their right to live fully rests. They want a system, which is the same, no matter where they live, or where they go; a system, which gives them the support to get a life and get on with it.

Such a universal system can be found in Scotland. Set up in 1988, the Independent Living Fund (ILF) was a trailblazer of self-directed social care support, and was greatly valued by disabled people right across the UK. It gave money to severely disabled people, at risk of being institutionalised, to organise their own support in the community.

Unfortunately, it was closed by the Westminster Government in June 2015. This closure was met with despair, legal challenge and significant protests, including disabled people storming the Houses of Parliament. Fortunately, the Scottish Government listened to disabled people. They set up a new public body, ILF Scotland, which continues to support those few thousand here who were still in receipt of the original ILF funding.

ILF Scotland will soon open a new fund, aimed at supporting disabled people, as they go through significant life transitions.

Independent living does not mean that disabled people should do everything by themselves, without any help. Neither does it mean they should be left to make decisions and choices in splendid isolation. Rather, independent living means that they should have the support, advice and guidance to make the same choices non-disabled people make in their day-to-day living.

Many disabled people believe that the lessons to be learned from ILF in Scotland, if applied more universally, could improve the quality of life for many, not just the lucky few. A mainstream self-directed social care support system on this model would operate as a national scheme, with national criteria. Eligibility would not be determined by local priorities, or local policies. A disabled person could move for work or personal reasons, without the fear of losing either personal or social support. More attention would be given to achieving outcomes than to how they were achieved. The new system would take a more flexible approach, trusting disabled people to make good decisions and recognising they are best placed to do so.

This approach could well provide an empowering model of self-directed social care support for all disabled people across Scotland; an approach which could be truly transformative; which would show the world, what a supportive and inclusive society Scotland truly is.