From 28-30 April, the European Social Network (ESN) attended major European meetings related to the implementation of the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Five years after its ratification, and half-way through the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020, the rights and access to services for people with disabilities remain challenged.

The EU and the UN convention

The UNCRPD has been signed by all EU Member States and by the European Union as a whole in 2010. The Convention states that persons with disabilities should have equal rights and equal access, including the right to live independently. Although disability policies are mainly a national competence, the EU has developed tools to enhance the implementation of the Convention and to monitor progress in individual Member States. These tools include a European Disability Strategy, and an ‘Accessibility Act’ (to be published).

The High Level Group on Disability and the Work Forum

On April 28, the European Social Network attended the first of the two annual meetings of the High Level Group on Disability. This group gathers representatives from Member States, the European Commission and other stakeholders. At the meeting, we learned about some of the national reforms taking place across countries in the field of employability of people with disabilities (Ireland) and reinforcing the role of the municipalities (The Netherlands). At European level, a review of the disability strategy will take place in early 2016 in the field of employability, implementation of the Social Investment Package and modernisation of social protection.

The Work Forum on the implementation of the UNCRPD

On April 29th, ESN attended the annual Work Forum on the implementation of the UNCRPD. A representative from the Latvian presidency explained the actions and conferences planned in the field of disability for the first Semester of 2015, showing a strong commitment towards disability issues, community care and deinstitutionalisation.

Data collection was highlighted as key to improve the situation of persons with disabilities. However data collection remains a challenge, which can in turn be detrimental to the proper use of EU funds.

Deinstitutionalisation and community care: how EU funds can help

The state of play and the use of European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) were presented by Marie-Anne Paraskevas (EC) and Andor Urmos (EC). The regulations for the current programming period 2014-2020 include a number of safeguards to ensure that social inclusion, transition to community-based care and independent living are supported.

Deinstitutionalisation was the topic of a meeting on 30th May. ESN and other members of the EEG (the European expert group on the transition from institutional to community-based care) met with EC representatives to discuss the situation in a number of countries. The EEG is planning training sessions on deinstitutionalisation for EU desk officers, as well as several seminars to inform and propose practical tools to enhance the transition to community care.

Conclusion

Collaboration with people with disabilities and other stakeholders, such as local authorities, could be improved. Indicators should help to design evidence-based policies, and include all types of disabilities. Local authorities have a key role to play in implementing policies and services for people with disabilities. At the same time, local authorities are increasingly requested to prove the efficiency and results of their programmes. In this regard, data collection could be advanced at the local level, providing there is an effort to involve them in the design and collection process.

Next steps

  • Latvian Presidency: In addition to a disability conference in Riga on 11-12 May, the presidency is organising a conference on deinstitutionalisation on June 15, where ESN’s CEO John Halloran will participate as a speaker.
  • Data collection: A full set of disability statistics is expected by the end of 2015 in the framework of the EHSIS (European Health and Social Integration Survey).
  • Accessibility act: In the next few months, the European Commission will publish a far-reaching “Accessiblity Act”, including services.