Comment: Our strength is to be led by our users

Three years ago the Government published its report, Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People.

John Knight
John Knight

Independent living was a key focus, as was recognition of the invaluable role organisations run and controlled by disabled people have in achieving this goal.

'User-led' organisations have great expertise and legitimacy in developing independent living strategies at grass-roots level. This approach is something that resonates strongly throughout Whitehall - Phil Hope is a great, long-standing advocate of improving support for 'community voice' and user-led organisations.

Such organisations should be the life-blood of the sector and of service delivery. They represent what many voluntary organisations are truly about - encouraging people to take control of their services and support, and therefore of their lives.

With an increasing struggle for funds, some user-led organisations lose out if they are unable to demonstrate the business and financial skills that often appear to dominate bidding processes now. Missing out on valuable funds means organisations that should be an integral part of the sector can become peripheral, vulnerable and insecure.

Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People set the Government a target of every locality having a user-led organisation to support independent living by 2010. If this target is to be hit, the reality of the contracting environment for user-led organisations needs to be acknowledged.

Futurebuilders England plans to work with the National Centre for Independent Living to identify six user-led organisations that would benefit from financial and business advice and training. This should leave these organisations well equipped to tender for contracts and deliver services. This project could provide a model.

Respecting the needs of our beneficiaries has always been a quality of our sector. Helping user-led organisations to develop and achieve these policy strands is one way the whole sector can demonstrate this quality.

- John Knight is head of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability: jk.thirdsector@googlemail.com.

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