How the UN CRPD is translated in European countries: a word about ANED’s work

With the support of the European Commission, the Academic Network of European Disability experts (ANED) publishes thematic reports on a regular basis, each time looking at the implementation of a specific article of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) in Europe. After addressing such themes as political participation, employment and independent living, in 2016 ANED focussed on social protection (UN CRPD, art.28), and published a ‘synthesis report’, statistical indicators and 35 country reports (available here).

UN CRPD, art. 28

“States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families [and] to social protection and to the enjoyment of that right without discrimination.”

The report compares the 35 country profiles submitted by national experts, giving a comprehensive overview of disability services in Europe, with specific examples of “promising practices”, too. It covers all items mentioned in the second paragraph of the UN CRPD’s art. 28, which states that measures should be taken to guarantee access to:

  • appropriate and affordable services, devices and other assistance
  • social protection programmes and poverty reduction programmes
  • assistance with disability-related expenses (understood as the additional costs borne to achieve a similar standard of living as non-disabled people)
  • public housing programmes
  • retirement benefits and programmes.
Providing personal assistance and support to carers: major variations across Europe  

State[SC4]  parties have widely embedded their obligation to ensure adequate social protection for people with disabilities in their laws and policies, and even more since the UN CRPD came into effect in 2008. In some countries, considerable powers are delegated to local municipal government to decide what services are offered and the eligibility criteria for accessing them (e.g. Denmark, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania and the Netherlands), which can explain different levels of service availability and provision. Personal assistants, personal budgets and financial support to carers are the most common mechanisms supporting independent living. It is worth noting that underdeveloped provisions in such countries as Greece, Lithuania, Portugal and Slovenia place a major burden on families and informal carers, who can be supported by specific schemes such as the Danish Tabt Arbejdsfortjeneste (Lost Earnings) benefit or the UK ‘Carers Allowance’.

In addition to these services, all countries have introduced measures to provide a replacement income for disabled people, the study found. This is mostly done through national disability payments schemes that include a combination of benefits based on social insurance contributions and/or work record and benefits based on means testing. However, the adequacy of the income replacements is more debatable.

Austerity measures and tightened eligibility criteria are a cause of concern

Concerns have emerged from the experts’ country-specific analyses. For instance, it has been found that decentralisation in Austria, Italy and Sweden was accompanied by inequalities in the availability and provision of support services, sometimes even by service shortages due to a lack of suitably trained staff in rural areas (Hungary, Estonia, Slovakia), “indicating inadequacies in recruitment and deployment policies”, according to ANED.

The 2008 financial crisis still impacts on disability services today, as these services are often the first targets of budget cuts. This raises concerns about the ability of social protection systems to effectively protect disabled people and their families from poverty. It is estimated that disabled people in Portugal have more than a 25% chance of being at risk of poverty than non-disabled people.

Recommendations for national governments

Based on their comprehensive cross-country analysis (some of the key points of which we briefly highlight in this article), ANED invites national governments and the EU to improve their data collection, promote greater coverage of social protection measures for disabled people, and to assess the impact of austerity measures and mainstream disability within the European Pillar of Social Rights, the EU2020 Strategy and the European Semester.

About ESN and disability

As a follow-up to ESN’s 2014-2016 Disability working group, we will publish a toolkit on disability services planning in the Spring 2017. Members can access all resources linked to the working group’s activities in their members’ area (please remember to log in prior to clicking this link).