ESN Spring Seminar 2013

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On 18-19 April, ESN welcomed 100 ESN members and invited guests from across 19 countries to Helsinki, Finland, to participate in ESN’s Spring Seminar 2013. The topic of the seminar focused on how social services can promote more choice and control for people with disabilities over their daily lives.

Opening the seminar, ESN Chair Lars-Göran Jansson highlighted: “Service users should play an active role in deciding how to manage their personal support system. It is about an individual rather than a service-led response to care needs.”

The first session outlined how different European welfare states approach measures promoting choice and control. Ioannis Dimitrakopoulos from the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency quoted figures from the EU’s income, social inclusion and living conditions survey, which show that 36% of persons with disabilities in the EU were at risk of poverty or social exclusion compared to 21% for those without disabilities.

Independent living does not mean that service users want to do everything by themselves and do not need anybody or that they want to live in isolation […] they want to grow up in their families, go to the neighbourhood school, use the same bus as their neighbours, work in jobs that are in line with their education and interests, and start families of their own”, said Jos Huys, Affiliated Researcher from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium.

An external evaluation of the Personal Assistant Scheme in Vienna, presented by Martina Plohovits, showed how personal assistance helps people with disabilities to participate in social life, to have access to work and live more autonomously. The Independent Living Programme in the Veneto Region, Italy, and a voucher system of personal assistance in Stenungsund municipality, Sweden, completed the session on local examples of the provision of choice and control.

Delegates also heard about how user involvement helps to improve the quality and the design of services. Tom Raines from the Manchester Area Partnership’s ‘Right to control’ project argued that co-production is essential for enabling disabled users to exercise right to control. Through an example from the mental health sector, the Finnish ‘Expert by Experience’ project described how service users are trained to become experts in their own care: “Users stay in control of their life even while experiencing a mental health problem”, said Timo Kallioaho, an expert by experience. Martins Rullis, a service user from Latvia, stressed that information is important to be able to make choices: “When I started to work together with other people, I saw that their lives and choices were different than for people with intellectual disabilities. To make decisions for ourselves we need to have the knowledge.”

The panel discussion at the end of the day raised issues about the differences in organising personal budgets and personal assistance schemes. “All countries develop differently, as they have different cultures and structures and it is interesting to see how they all develop over time”, said Jamie Bolling from the European Network for Independent Living.

In some countries cash benefits and services are being reduced to improve cost-effectiveness. Panellists also talked about the trade-off between having a legal right to choice and control and the financial availability of resources. “I hope that in a few years’ time we’ll look back and see that we have moved towards a society that is much more inclusive and participative for everybody”, concluded ESN’s John Halloran.

On the second day of the seminar, ESN members and delegates from the Baltic states discussed what challenges social services face implementing choice and control and what support do they need to provide choice and control. Some highlights from the discussions are available in the Members' Area. A more detailed report will be published soon. In the meantime, if you know of any good practices on promoting choice and control for service users, particularly in the disability sector, please get in touch. 

Resources and presentations from the seminar can be found here