The UK government has just been slammed for violating human rights, and Theresa May doesn’t care

Steve Topple

The Conservative government has been slammed for “systematic” human rights abuses, right here in the UK. The UN has condemned what it called “grave” and “systematic” violations of international conventions the UK has signed up to. But in response, Theresa May’s government fobbed off the UN findings, saying it “strongly disagreed” with the report.

Scapegoating disabled people

On 7 November, the UN Human Rights Committee published its report [.doc] into the state of disabled people’s rights. This is the first time the UN has investigated a country for possible human rights violations against disabled people. The report looks at the effects of welfare reforms that the Coalition and Conservative governments have introduced since 2010 as part of their austerity programmes. And the UN is scathing in its condemnation of the government’s policies and treatment of disabled people.

The UN found that the UK government has forced through reforms with no regard for the rights of disabled people. The government told the UN it was not possible to do an impact assessment on how reforms would affect disabled people. But the UN disagreed. It said with the evidence and data available, the government could have done this. Welfare reforms, it found, had “had a more negative impact on households with persons with disabilities”. It also said the government failed to listen to the concerns of disabled people it had involved in policy making processes.

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Among other concerns, the committee said the UK government had helped to create a public perception where disabled people:

have been… negatively portrayed as being dependent or making a living out of benefits; committing fraud as benefit claimants; being lazy and putting a burden on taxpayers, who are paying ‘money for nothing’. Persons with disabilities continue to experience increasing hostility, aggressive behaviour and sometimes attacks to their personal integrity.

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The committee found no evidence to support any of these ideas, especially the idea that disabled claimants were committing benefit fraud.

Treated like cattle

The UN was critical of the government’s assumption that people are better off in work. It said that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “processed rather than listened to or understood” disabled people during Work Capability Assessments (WCA). In particular:

the needs, views and personal history of persons with disabilities, and particularly those requiring high levels of support such as persons with intellectual and/or psychosocial disabilities, were not properly taken into account or given appropriate weight in the decisions affecting them.

It found that the WCA failed to keep disabled people informed about the process they were going through. This resulted in significant “anxiety” and “financial, material and psychological hardship”. In fact, the committee found that the WCA process had caused people’s mental health to “severely deteriorate”. The UN was also critical of:

  • Cuts to Legal Aid.
  • Failures to monitor how reforms were affecting disabled people.
  • The Welfare Reform Act 2012; specifically that it broke set international conventions on disabled people’s rights.
  • WCA not recognising the complexity of disabled people’s conditions.

No independence

The report was highly critical of how government reforms had affected disabled people’s right to live independently. It specifically noted the UK government had violated rights due to:

  • The Bedroom Tax.
  • Changes to Personal Independence Payments (PIP).
  • Cuts to social care.
  • The abolition of the Independent Living Fund (ILF).
  • Caps on benefits.

It slammed the Conservatives for introducing reforms that had evidentially caused “high levels of stress, anxiety and depression”. It criticised them for stripping disabled people’s support away at every level, by closing the ILF. The UN also called out the Conservatives’ reforms to care provision. It stated that this, coupled with cuts to budgets, had led to “financial hardship” and stopped disabled people from taking “part in community life”.

The DWP

The DWP specifically came under fire for “disproportionately” applying benefits sanctions. The UN said the DWP benefit sanctions regime had left disabled people to rely on support from family or foodbanks. It said the Work Programme and Jobcentre Plus did almost nothing to help disabled people into work. It also found both of them ignored people’s specific needs.

But crucially, the UN said the DWP failed to properly investigate people’s deaths after their benefits were stopped. It noted that they had made no “attempts at objective, thorough, open and impartial investigation(s)” to look at the alleged 90 deaths a month.

“Systematic violations” of human rights

Overall, the UN concluded that “systematic violations” of disabled people’s human rights in the UK had occurred. It stated that:

  • The government knew that welfare reforms would “disproportionately and adversely affect the rights of disabled people”, yet it did nothing. It also ignored evidence indicating this.
  • Measures introduced by the government were discriminatory.
  • The government had violated disabled people’s basic rights, including independent and community living and rights to life, social protection and employment.
  • Over half a million people may have had their human rights abused by the government.

The UN set out 11 recommendations that the government must consider. Linda Burnip from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) told The Canary:

DPAC are very pleased that the publication of the UN inquiry into the grave and systematic violation of disabled people’s human rights has vindicated our complaints to the UN. The committee’s damning report clearly demonstrates that the Tories were well aware of the negative impact of their actions and policies on disabled people. Yet they went ahead with these attacks, regardless.

The Tories attitudes and actions can only be compared with those of politicians in 1930s Nazi Germany. The Tories should be deeply ashamed of their actions. But they won’t be. Like Aktion T4 the actions of this government in relation to conscious cruelty against disabled people is now a matter for international public record.

We’ve been here before…

The problem with the UN report is that the UK has been here before. As The Canary previously reported, in June another UN committee slammed the government in a separate report. It found the government had, again, systematically abused the human rights of minority and vulnerable groups. All in the name of austerity. The UN said that the violations were so severe, the UK report was comparable with Honduras – a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world, and one which is subject to tourist travel warnings from both the US and the UK.

The UN stated the government must reverse all benefit cuts since 2010. But the government has completely ignored those findings, despite May’s claim to want a society that “works for everyone”. And the likelihood is that the latest UN report will go the same way. Sadly, there is an inherent flaw with everything that the UN has stipulated – none of it is legally binding. Essentially, the Conservative government currently has a free pass to ride roughshod over the human rights of anyone it deems less worthy in society. And the only way that will ever change is via the ballot box.

Get Involved!

– Support Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).

Write to your MP, asking them to support the UN findings.

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