Causing divide destroys the right to assistance

The personal assistance service is threatened. More than 1200 people have lost their personal assistant the last two years and thus, lost the preconditions for an independent life. The worst part is that this hadn’t ha to happen. This development is a consequence of a decade long politics of division by several consecutive governments, regardless of colour.

Since the law of support and service for the disabled (Lagen om Stöd och Service för funktionshindrade, LSS) was introduced in 1994, several thousands of people with needs to live dignifying lives have gained access to personal assistance. For many of these people, the only option before the reform was a life in institutions. They with a body or mind that works in other ways than those in power deemed normal were locked in and kept separated from society. LSS meant a opportunity to participate in society. It meant options to study and work as everybody else. It also meant support to be able to live with your family and visit the one you love. Not least, LSS means a possibility to participate in political activities and to organise yourself together with your neighbours for togetherness. Researchers and scholars are in strong agreement, LSS have improved the quality of life immensely for all those that have been included in this reform. None the less, LSS is being questioned and attacked by politicians for several years.

The gradual erosion of LSS consists of two main parts. Fewer and fewer are being granted assistance and the contant in the actual assistance have changed through tougher assessment of what the support should cover. Since the current government took office in 2014, this development escalated. The government claimed that LSS was characterised overutilisation and cheating. Even though there are no data to support that LSS differs from any other welfare area when it comes to cheating[1]. In the appropriation to Försäkringskassan (Government branch of social welfare distribution) the government demanded that “the cost development in LSS must be dampened”[2]. Which resulted in that the already strict assessments became even tougher. Some parts of the erosion of LSS can be derived from a series of judgements from the Supreme Administrative Court that leads to strong limitations in what is acknowledged as need of assistance.

It’s remarkable that the dismantling of LSS is being conducted by a government that calls itself to feminist. Those that lose the right to assistance is a mix of all genders of course, but it strikes harder at women. First of all, it’s mostly women that works as assistances, it’s women that lose their jobs when the assistance hours are cut. Secondly, Försäkringskassan often refers to “parental responsibility” when denying certain support to children. We know that mothers, regardless of the child’s functional capacity, still spends more time than fathers on taking care of their children. So cutdowns in assistance leads to increased inequality.

The government has until recently claimed that they can’t do anything regarding what happens to LSS. This is of course utter nonsense! Political scientist Niklas Altermark explains:

“If you sum up the governments argumentation, it states that they are not to blame for the current situation, they couldn’t do anything but now they act and “takes responsibility”. It’s not particularly hard to see this as a contradiction; they can suddenly act despite the earlier claimed inability to affect the development of these policies. At the same time as they are at no fault for the situation, they can snap their fingers so that Försäkringskassan carry out exactly the disability rights movement have requested for two years. The more reasonable interpretation of what has actually happened is that they have acted rather forcefully to cut expenses but that they didn’t want to go through a parliament vote to do so. Now, when the consequences are beginning to stand clear, thay have been forced to back down, disown responsibility and duck.[3][4]

The critique Altermark describes is about the persistent struggle of the disability rights movement in Sweden since the first signs of erosions in LSS. The movement has mobilised and forced the government to make small recants from their dismantling policies. The 14th of November the government issued a statement that the law will be reviewed in relation to the recent judgements in the Supreme Administrative Court. And that they are pulling on the emergency brake in assessments so that no one else will loose their assistance, at least not until the review is finished. This is a direct result of the pressure the government has been under from the disabled rights movement and proof that struggling, and organising pays off. But were not finished yet! The governments decision doesn’t help all those thousands that have already lost their assistance.

Cutdowns in LSS are parts of the politics of division where vulnerable groups are posed against each other. The Minister for Finance, Magdalena Andersson said in 2015 that they had to cut down on assistance in order to pay for the reception of refugees. The same government has spent the last two years, limiting possibilities for refugees to stay in Sweden as well as continuing the dismantling of LSS. Susannce Berg from Independent Living concluded that “posing groups with people in need of support from society against each other is to do the bidding of dark forces.”[5]

But there are alternatives to the politics of division. When the unaccompanied youths in Young in Sweden (Ung I Sverige) gathered outside the parliament in September 2017, it was with demands on amnesty as well as a stop to the dismantling of LSS. Spokesperson Fatemeh Khavari said that the youths that comes to Sweden now are tomorrows personal assistants. Uniting struggles undermines the arguments of the dark forces Susanne Berg spoke about.

It’s a lie that we can’t afford both refugees and assistance to those that need it!

Sweden is rich.

Sweden is even richer than we’ve ever been before.

We can afford each other.

But we can’t afford politics of division that pose vulnerable groups against each other.

The disabled rights movement has made the government to pull the emergency brake. It proves that struggle and organising pays off. But we need to keep fighting until everyone that is in need of personal assistance gets one. The 3rd of December, manifestations will be held in several cities around Sweden under the call “Assistance is freedom – save LSS”! I encourage everyone that can to join up on Sunday!

 

Mikael M Karlsson

Activist, Together for Lund

 

[1] Niklas Altermark, Hampus Nilsson, 2017, ”Det handlar om miljarder” En metodanalys av hur assistansfusket bedöms av svenska myndigheter

[2] Authors translation, original: ”dämpa kostnadsutvecklingen inom LSS”.

[3] Authors translation.

[4] https://bigstrongunion.blogspot.se/2017/11/riksdagsdebatt-om-personlig-assistans.html?m=1

[5] http://www.mynewsdesk.com/se/pressreleases/regeringen-staeller-utsatta-grupper-mot-varandra-1239604