Brussels, 13 Jan 2006
The European Commission is providing funds for a study to find out how many people with disabilities are still in institutional care in Europe, and to assess the cost and procedure for replacing institutions with care in the community.
The project consortium, led by the Tizard Centre at the University of Kent, UK, and featuring researchers in Spain, Germany, Belgium and the Czech Republic, will assess the situation in 22 European countries. The two-year research project is being funded with a grant of 350,000 euro from the Commission's DG Employment and Social Affairs' unit for the integration of people with disabilities.
CORDIS News spoke to one of the coordinators of the project, the Tizard Centre's Jim Mansell, and asked him exactly what the partners were trying to achieve. 'The Commission asked us to estimate the number of disabled people still cared for in institutions across Europe, which involves analysis of existing datasets. However, different countries vary enormously in the quality of such data, so this is not a simple task.'
Just getting an accurate idea of the number of people with disabilities being cared for in institutions will be challenging enough, but where possible, the team will also try to collect qualitative data, concerning the different types of institution still in use, for example, and the number of qualified staff working in them.
Having access to such data will 'allow the Commission to build its policies on a much firmer basis than they can at present,' believes Professor Mansell. Another by-product could be the creation of an EU-wide template for the collection of such data, which would make similar initiatives much easier in the future.
Professor Mansell then explained that there is a second key objective for the project. 'As well as being interested in the broad picture, the Commission also wants to know the cost implications of moving from institutional to community care for disabled people.'
This side of the project will involve researchers from the London School of Economics (LSE) working with colleagues at the Tizard Centre, and will look in detail at the situation in three European countries. 'We will analyse their experience of closing institutions in order to present a blueprint of how governments can effect such change,' said Professor Mansell.
CORDIS News asked Professor Mansell whether an assumption underlying the project is that community services, by definition, are preferable to institutional care. 'The Scandinavians, for example, would probably say that it is a matter of principle that people with disabilities should remain close to their family and friends, yes. Of course, community services can be set up so badly that people are better off in institutions, but people are substantially better off in community care when it's done properly,' he argues.
While Professor Mansell accepts that community services are generally more expensive than institutional arrangements, which is a concern for some countries trying to move towards the community-based system, he does not believe that a straight comparison is fair. 'It's about cost effectiveness, rather than cost comparison, and the key factor is that community care is so much more effective.'
While many countries, including the Nordic countries, the UK and Italy, have already made significant progress in abolishing institutional care for the disabled, most others, including Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands, are now moving in that direction, according to Professor Mansell. Lest anyone question the significance and value of such a trend, he finished by saying: 'These large, isolated institutions are based on a 200-year-old model, which was designed to remove disabled people from society.' This project should provide some of the key resources needed to help consign that model to history.