Merton Centre for Independent Living (MCIL) has brought together local disabled people, Councillors and organisations to come up with a set of 12 key demands to improve the lives of disabled people in Merton.
Merton CIL is run by disabled people, for disabled people who live, work or study in Merton. They offer Peer Support, a home visiting Advice Service and a brand new Advocacy Service which supports disabled people at appeals and tribunals, among other things.
Over 70 people attended the debate on Tuesday 19th November which was called ‘My Voice Matters: Listen to my Demands’ and held at the Morden Park Baptist Church in Lower Morden. Disabled people met with Councillors and representatives from over 20 local organisations ranging from local JobCentre Plus staff to Canons Leisure Centre to Merton Healthwatch. Organisers Merton CIL worked hard to make the event fully accessible, which included having documents in ‘easy read’ format, British Sign Language Interpreters available, and a graphic facilitator, Sandra Howgate.
Labour Councillor Linda Kirby says: “Merton CIL’s My Voice Matters Conference yesterday was an excellent opportunity to meet with and discuss the anxieties that many people with disabilities are facing in this climate of massive welfare change. It was clear that these changes are heavily impacting on them, which is especially difficult because of the level of discrimination they already have to bear in our society.”
Some shocking facts came out during the day, particularly in the presentation by Tracey Lazard, CEO of Inclusion London which supports Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations in London. Tracey pointed out that disabled people are being hit by the cuts to Welfare 9 times harder than the average UK citizen, and disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty.
Merton CIL Manager Lyla Adwan-Kamara explained: “These things are happening here in Merton. We work with people who don’t have enough money to eat, who can’t afford to get to their hospital appointments or who can’t pay their heating bills or rent, and they don’t know where to go. We work with people who are isolated at home and feel like no-one is listening, who want to work but can’t find a job, or who want to study but can’t afford the costs of education. People who have asked the police for help and been told they’re crazy. People who are told its ok to have a bed bath, when they want a real bath or told to use pads at night because their care has been cut. These things are not ok. But collectively we can address these issues and our ‘My Voice Matters’ event is about starting a conversation in Merton and saying that we dare to dream of a better way of doing things.”
The event was designed to support local disabled people to get their voice heard by decision makers in Merton so Councillor Kirby was joined by Independent Councillor Karin Forbes and took part in a panel session after lunch, taking questions from members on the demands and other topical issues. Conservative Councillor Debbie Shears was due to take part but cancelled on the day due to family issues and sent her apologies. It is a great pity that the Merton Conservatives did not send anyone in her place to listen to disabled people’s views and join in the conversation, particularly when local elections are just round the corner.
Questions from the floor covered a range of concerns including the status of Mental Health Services in the Borough, concerns around cuts to Adult Social Care, and issues with social housing. John Kelly, Merton CIL vice-chair, campaigner and freelance musician pointed out that “there is a lot of talk about lack of money, and we know what you mean because we don’t have any money either! But the way the council distributes and spends money needs to be more accountable, why are you spending money on glossy magazines and flower beds when people don’t have enough to eat?”
Councillor Linda Kirby said “the conference focused its attention on some of the key issues that it would like the Council to help address around Education, Social Care, Access and Information and Employment. As the cabinet member for Adult Social Care and Health I am happy to do all I can to assist.”
Merton Centre for Independent Living are now setting up a meeting to go through the 12 demands with Councillors and Council Officers. John Kelly says: “The event has been a great success in being a platform so that disabled people voices really do matter. London Borough of Merton have now pledged to listen, and we will be working hard to ensure this turns into action.”
Find out more about MCIL at www.mertoncil.org.uk