Debbie Domb, a disability rights community campaigner, whose commitment was central in winning free homecare in the London borough of Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) for thousands of older and disabled people, has died aged 60. H&F is the only Council in the whole of England to have policy, not to impose charges on us.
We first met her through Hammersmith & Fulham Coalition Against Cuts (HAFCAC), which she co-founded with Kevin Caulfield and others. HAFCAC was self-funded by holding pub quizzes that Debbie organised. Her hard work paid off, as other groups which feared losing their Council funding, didn’t speak out.
In 2008, Debbie put herself forward for a legal challenge to the (then) Tory Council against their charging policy, joined by Dulce Sobral and Moses Bushiwa (the case was called Domb v London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, 2009). They asserted that charges are in breach of disability, gender and race equality law, as charging has a disproportionate impact on severely disabled people/women/people of colour.
We did not win the case, as the judges ruled that the Council should be allowed to set the budget as they wanted, and even if this went against their election promises. But HAFCAC is proud that bringing the case held off charging in the borough for years, promoting people’s survival. They continued what became an eight-year campaign, raising awareness and changing the climate through local and national publicity. To The Independent in 2010, Debbie described the impact of charging on herself and others, including women pensioners. The journalist who interviewed her wrote:
She “panicked” when a bill came through saying she had to pay £12.50 for every hour of care she needed. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to do this?’ The more care you need, the higher your bill, so the most disabled people got the highest charges. Everyone was distraught. I had friends who had to choose between having the heating on in winter and paying for their care … I know a 90-year-old woman with macular degeneration who can’t see, and she had to stop her services. There are lots of people who have been left to rot, with nobody checking any more that they’re OK, and I’m sure some of them have ended up in hospital or have died.”
On 3 December 2014, UN International Day of Disabled People, Cllr Steve Cowan, leader of H&F’s newly-elected Labour Council, who had supported the protests against charging, announced that this tax on disability would be abolished from April 2015 (one of many progressive policy changes). Debbie wrote for our leaflet:
“We were disproportionately affected by cuts disguised as ‘efficiencies’ in Cameron’s favourite borough, as policies were road-tested prior to being rolled out nationwide. Because HAFCAC was a self-funding grassroots campaign group we weren’t beholden to anyone, so were able to develop good working relationships with various organisations including the Labour group in opposition on the council. The announcement on 3 December that homecare charging would be abolished, marks another development in that relationship. H&F is no longer a borough that puts disabled residents last.”
As a woman, mother and grandmother, Debbie was interested to do more with WinVisible, and we had plans, but other factors intervened. We knew her mainly as a campaign colleague, but being in touch at crucial moments brought us closer, such as while she was in hospital in 2016 to have a feeding tube fitted. In February this year she texted: “I’m still regretting having the rig fitted, it’s really messed up my life” — before asking about the latest news. Her interests and campaigning edge were always present alongside her challenging daily life.
We’re glad that Debbie saw the abolition of charges become reality, in which she and HAFCAC were a driving force. With her passing, she and we have been deprived of so much more.
Thank you Debbie.
HAFCAC’s tribute: http://www.hafcac.org.uk/
A message from Council Leader, Cllr Stephen Cowan: