Distinguished guests, dear colleagues,
Ten years ago the Expert Group started a “long march” – not through the institutions, but out of the institutions to freedom.
Mr Spidla, you took the first steps along this road.
Thank you for that.
And I thank all of you here today.
Members of the European Expert Group.
In the last ten years, you have been tireless advocates of this important cause.
You put this issue on the map.
We now must continue the walk.
In Europe, people still live in institutions:
- People who are homeless,
- who have disabilities, or
- mental health problems.
And it is of great concern that 345,000 children live in institutions, even though it is well-known that institutions put children at risk in their physical and mental development.
“Institutional care” is a contradiction in terms.
No institutional care is better than community-based care, family care, or personal care.
We do not want “care” that hides people away and forces them into dependence.
We want to empower people and foster independence.
I will give the example of a young woman –– Caroline.
Thanks to her parents’ help she is now living on her own.
She has a part-time job cleaning houses and she gets to do what she truly likes in the afternoon: swimming.
She is happy and fully-integrated into society.
None of that could have happened had she been in an institution.
We all know stories like this.
We need to get people out of the institutions and into the community.
First because it is the right thing to do.
People with disabilities have a right to independent living.
They have the right to go to the same schools, the same doctors as everybody else.
- Last year’s UN General Assembly Resolution on the Rights of the Child underlines the right of children with disabilities with respect to family life.
- The European Union and all Member States signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
This convention reinforces the right to independent living.
- We all have a legal and moral duty to fully respect the convention.
Second, we need to get people out of institutions because it is the sensible thing to do.
We need everyone to contribute to society and to the economy.
We need everybody’s talent, for Europe to thrive.
We must act together so that every citizen can reach her or his full potential.
Disabilities do not recognise borders.
There can be no second class Europeans.
There are many things we need to do.
We can only design effective policies based on facts.
How many people live in institutions?
It is indeed worrying that there are no European statistics on this area.
We need this data.
We are working with Eurostat to get these statistics.
This is not as simple as it sounds.
Eurostat has to ask the Member States to provide the data.
The result is a complex discussion with national statistical offices about method and procedure.
But you can help: tell the Member States we need this data.
Tell them it is urgent.
It is not only about numbers, it is about peoples’ lives.
We also need to continue to raise awareness.
You have done a good job so far.
But all too often, people still think institutions are safe places.
People think – sometimes with the best intentions – that institutions protect children and people with disabilities from the outside world.
Especially people with intellectual disabilities.
But people have a right to, and enjoy, living independently and in a community – it is where they truly flourish.
Also, and most importantly, because this is about a reality check:
We cannot send people out of the institutions, into the streets.
We need to make sure there is an alternative.
And in many places, there is still a lot of work to be done on this.
The last 10 years, we at the European Commission have used all means at our disposal to fulfil our obligation to ensure independent living.
We fought segregation and supported inclusion with
- Our 2013 Recommendation on investing in children
- The 2017 Council conclusions on community based support
Independent living is central to the European Disability Strategy, which is our main tool to implement the UN Convention.
Likewise, it is central to the European Pillar of Social Rights, which promotes inclusion, accessibility and independence in education, work, housing and essential services, as well as integrated, person-centred care.
Our directive on Work Life Balance, supports people who care for relatives with disabilities.
Our European Structural and Investment funds are a driving force in helping people out of institutions.
For instance, by supporting community based services.
We also use the European Semester, our annual cycle of economic and social policy coordination.
Recently we gave fifteen Member States Country Specific Recommendation on long-term care, including references to de-institutionalisation.
Of course, we need to do much more.
Independent living is about creating an inclusive society.
It is also about quality care.
President von der Leyen champions equality as one of the common values at the heart of the European Union.
I am proud to be the very first European Commissioner for Equality.
I will fight for a Europe without discrimination.
I am especially concerned about people facing double discrimination and twice the challenges.
For example: Women with disabilities – who have less chance of finding a job and are at greater risk of poverty than men, with or without disabilities.
Equality is not only about equal treatment, it is also about social inclusion.
It is also about offering new opportunities.
Just two days ago, the Commission adopted its Communication on A strong social Europe for Just Transitions.
This makes our social ambitions clear and provides a timeline for our planned initiatives.
And I am pleased to inform you that it announces a new Disability Equality Strategy for 2021.
I have already set up a Task Force for Equality, to make sure equal treatment and inclusion will be paramount in all Commission policies.
Independent living is a pre-condition, for equal treatment, and a cornerstone of our equality agenda.
We will make sure that independent living features in all our present and future work:
- In the strengthened disability strategy, that we will build following the evaluation of the present strategy.
- In our Action Plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights.
- In our country reports and policy recommendations in the European Semester, which we will link more closely with the Sustainable Development Goals.
Goals such as fighting poverty, inclusive education and reducing inequality are very relevant to independent living.
- Through our European funds, where in our next programming period we have an even better chance to make sure every intended cent is spent on independent living.
We will link our funds to our recommendations in the European Semester.
In addition, through the assessment of the relevant enabling conditions, we will ensure:
- That the funds are implemented in an efficient and effective manner in accordance with the EU Charter on fundamental rights and the UN Convention; and
- That all Member States have in place a national strategic framework for social inclusion and poverty reduction, including child poverty, that includes a shift to independent living.
In the same spirit, we are preparing a Child Guarantee to make sure every child in Europe has access to healthcare and education. This also covers children presently living in institutions.
We share a common vision on independent living.
I know it won’t be easy to make this vision a reality.
The road is long, and we can only take measured steps.
But I am very happy to work with you along the way towards this noble goal:
A Europe where people live free and independently, regardless of disability.
Our work brings the voice of people with intellectual disabilities and their families where decisions about their future are made.
This has always been incredibly important. It is even more so with the Covid pandemic drastic impact on their rights and lives.
Being visible and vocal on issues directly affecting millions of people requires your support.
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