NAT commission expressed its firm support for the transition from institutional to community-based care and to provide specific guidelines for the transitional period, reflecting a growing perception that institutional care is outdated and sometimes contradict human rights.
"I believe that diversity is something that enriches our culture and makes us better at understanding the important things in life," said Xamuel Gonzalez-Westling (SE/PES), member of Hofors municipal council and rapporteur for the opinion on ' Deinstitutionalisation in care systems at local and regional level '. "Everyone in our society is contributing to its progress in one way or another. It is our differences that make us stronger as a whole. When we embrace those differences and try to learn from them, we will make better choices and decisions, but also we will learn to know ourselves. Deinstitutionalisation is a means to an end, rather than just a goal in itself."
Mr Gonzalez-Westling was speaking in Brussels on 26 September, at a meeting of the Commission for Natural Resources (NAT) of the European Committee of the Regions at which his recommendations won preliminary approval. His opinion is set for debate and adoption by the CoR on 30 November.
One in six people in the European Union — around 80 million — have a moderate to severe disability. Over one-third of people over the age of 75 have a disability that restricts them to some extent. These numbers are set to rise as the EU population grows older. Most of these people are all too often prevented from fully participating in society and the economy because of physical or other barriers, as well as by discrimination.
My opinion, explained Gonzalez-Westling, calls for a paradigm shift towards more individualised care and a comparative analysis between EU Member States on the deinstitutionalisation of care, and recommends that priority be given to establishing and developing indicators to form part of a strategy and plan for the transition to community-based care.
"Building the conditions in which people with disabilities can acquire knowledge and skills, develop their talents and fulfil social and professional roles should be considered an investment in the social and economic future of Europe," Marek Plura (PL/EPP), a member of the European Parliament, told CoR members. "The CoR opinion being discussed today is a valuable contribution to the discussion on the new European Disability Strategy," he said.
The CoR's draft opinion points out that, given society’s changing attitudes towards people with disabilities and mental health problems, institutional care will increasingly be called into question. There is consensus on the negative effects of long-term institutional care and the superiority of more open forms of care in the community, with high-quality local services not necessarily costing more. Research in the field of health economics demonstrates that community-based mental-health services generally cost the same as hospital-based services. However, as they consistently deliver better outcomes for the individual, they are more effective from a societal perspective.
Local and regional elected representatives said that the transition from institutional to community-based care requires not only logistical changes, but also steps to combat stigma, tackling prejudice, challenging stereotypes and changing attitudes.
Members of the NAT commission also placed special emphasis on promoting and protecting the rights of the child, recognising that whenever possibly family (biological or foster) and wider community guarantee better care outcomes than institutional alternatives.
The CoR calls on the Member States to work towards reducing the need for guardianships, arguing that guardianship results in a ward losing almost all his or her legal rights.
NAT members also underlined the rights of persons with disabilities to work and to receive medical treatment outside care establishments.
Also adopted was the opinion on the "Action Plan for a Maritime Strategy in the Atlantic area — Delivering smart, sustainable and inclusive growth" , drawn up by Jerry Lundy (IE/ALDE), and the opinion on "Revitalisation of rural areas through Smart Villages" by Enda Stenson (IE/EA). In addition, views were exchanged on the "Initiative for the sustainable development of the blue economy in the western Mediterranean" , an opinion drawn up by Samuel Azzopardi (MT/EPP).
The next meeting of the NAT commission will be held in Brussels on 20 November.
Note to editors
The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union states that "the Union recognises and respects the right of persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence, social and occupational integration and participation in the life of the community." Furthermore, the EU and all its 27 Member States have already committed to creating a barrier-free Europe by signing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
- The EU disability strategy specifies measures that the EU should take as part of the Europe 2020 strategy ( IP/10/225) as well as measures proposed in the 2010 EU Citizenship Report ( IP/10/1390 ).
- Guidelines on the transition from institutional to community-based care can be found in a 2012 report written, at the support of the European Commission, by the European Expert Group on the Transition from Institutional to Community-based Care (EEG), a coalition of stakeholders representing people with care or support needs and their families.
- Photos are available on the Flickr page of the European Committee of the Regions.
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