25 years of Independent Living in Sweden
International conference 28-29 November 2008
Independent Living celebrated its first twenty-five years in Sweden with a two days conference 28th and 29th November. On the Friday IL-people and others from near and far filled the big conference hall of the newly built trendy Clarion Hotel Sign.
Far way guests from USA mingled with representatives for the European movement and our Scandinavian neighbours. The people from Gothenburg travelled up on their own bus. Others used other means to get from all corners of Sweden to the capital where they were made welcome by Kerstin Nilsson, vice chair of STIL.
Ulrik Lindgren from the Ministry of Social Affairs spoke in length about the remaining years up to 2010 the year of the Swedish access goal, the present work and the plans for the future.
However, the focus of the morning session was on Bengt Westerberg. He was the minister for social affairs that pushed through the right to personal assistance and direct payment from the social security system at the middle of a deep recession. In his speech he told the audience about how he visited the STIL project 1986 and was inspired by the “revolutionary ideas”. Ideas he later had the pleasure to realise.
The right to personal assistance was a huge victory for the nascent Independent Living movement in Sweden and Adolf Ratzka also introduced him with the words:
- Today’s conference is about Independent Living but it is also in honour of Bengt Westerberg.
After the opening session it was time for Independent Living today to introduce itself. The panel consisted of representatives for the cooperatives in Stockholm and Gothenburg, STIL and GIL, the JAG Association and Independent Living Institute.
These have all in their own ways developed from the role model presented at the 1983 conference. A conference when Independent Living representatives from the UK and USA visited Stockholm and introduced the
movement’s fundamental principles and personal assistance as service solution.
The panel presentations were rounded up with a view forward. What is the main challenge for the Independent Living movement in the future? All the responses pointed out the need to now take the next step in the movement’s development, to regain the initiative in the public debate, to widen the actual influence to other areas in society and to attract the generation which has grown up with personal assistance and believe this to be a self-evident right.
During the afternoon the Swedish society came into focus. The panel’s presentations dealt with the historical situation when Independent Living was introduced 1983 and why the resistance from the established disability organisations and stakeholders was so hard.
The growing critique of welfare solutions administered within the public sector that was present during the 1980’s as well as the choice of Bengt Westerberg to make personal
assistance into an issue symbolising his politics were pointed out as an explanation to why the movement still gained entrance into the Swedish welfare system.
The characteristics of the welfare system behind the resistance was also addressed during this panel. Factors which the Independent Living movement need to consider in future strategies. The National Board of Health and Welfare’s recent evaluation of personal assistance was presented and gave a more balanced picture than presented within the public debate where assistance is portrayed as exclusive and costly.
The evaluation shows that there are costs for assistance but that many of these can be traced back to savings within other service solutions. To a large extent it is a question of expenses moved to different budget posts.
Peter Brusén finished his reflection by stating that:
- I believe that the Independent Living Movement have worked a lot with reducing the gap between word and action – just what is needed.
The history and development of the Independent Living movement in Norway, Great Britain, Germany and the United States was presented during the afternoon. Thereafter the international perspective was followed up in a panel dealing with the global development of the movement, the international movements. The importance of international contacts and to bring a disability perspective into development aid was emphasised. Threshold, the Finnish organisation allocate a third of its activities and budget for collaboration with organisations in the developing world. The importance of multi-tasking, to refuse to accept no as an answer and to work cross-age, cross-disability etcetera was emphasised. The importance of formulating your own solutions and that development aid always has to include persons with disabilities was also strongly reiterated. A huge challenge is the newly enacted UN convention.
The journalist and historian Henrik Berggren summed up the discussions of the day:
- How can we discuss issues of autonomy, of collective action, of state and market in a ways that can permeate other types of the political issues today?
His view was that the Independent Living movement could have a lot to offer concerning these issues in the public debate. He therefore wished the movement continued success and expressed a hope that it will provide new fuel to a more common political debate on renewal of democracy.
The Friday conference was closed by Hadar Cars, Deputy Mayor of Stockholm as he welcomed the guests to the city.