New year honours: Recognition for independent living campaigner

A leading campaigner for independent living – and the importance of choice and control for disabled people – has spoken of her “embarrassment” at being recognised with a CBE in the new year honours.

Sue Bott, director of policy and development at Disability Rights UK and former director of the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL) – who receives the award for services to disabled people and their families – said she was “shocked” when told of the CBE in November.

She said: “Obviously you think: ‘Why on earth me?’ I’m not a connoisseur of the honours system, so I literally had to look up what CBE meant.

“I think I will always retain a certain amount of embarrassment about having a CBE. I think I am quite a modest person really, and I never aspired to such a thing.”

She revealed that she had hesitated before accepting the honour, because of the current government’s policies on independent living, but decided that it would be “an empty gesture” to turn it down.

Bott said she hoped the CBE provided “more opportunities to spread my message”, but added: “I think I am going to be quite cautious about how I use it, because I want to be able to have maximum impact, so I want to save it to use at a time when I feel that bringing all influence to bear is absolutely essential.

“Obviously I am very concerned about what is happening in relation to independent living at the moment.

“I could go on about that every day, but I think if you want to maximise your influence you pick your time and your opportunity and influence when it really counts.”

She believes she was recognised mostly for her work as chair of the Think Local Act Personal partnership, which focuses on “driving forward work with personalisation”, as well as her other work in disability, some of which she believes has been “quite innovative”.

Most of her working life was spent in Shropshire, where she developed a new disabled people’s organisation, Shropshire Disability Consortium, which grew to employ 45 people.

Among other career highlights, she picked on the decision – after she moved to NCIL – to involve the organisation in the government’s individual budgets pilot programme, rather than continuing to focus exclusively on direct payments.

She said: “I was very much of the view that we should get involved because – imperfect though things have certainly turned out to be – I think they would have been a lot worse without NCIL being constantly there to remind people about what choice and control is really all about.”

She was also closely involved – over four years – in the discussions that led to NCIL’s eventual merger with Disability Alliance and RADAR to form Disability Rights UK in 2012.

Bott said she was pleased that DR UK had taken on NCIL’s philosophy to become a “genuine disabled people’s organisation”, as opposed to the “slightly different culture” of the other two organisations.

She said: “At the new organisation, if you look at the articles of association and the way we do things, it is much more like how we used to do things at NCIL, so I am very pleased with that.”

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