The UN has just delivered its most damning verdict to date on the Conservative government. The overarching report follows on from a highly critical statement last week where the UN said the Tories had created a “human catastrophe”. And now, it accuses the government of failing to implement the most basic of human rights. It also says the government must revoke some of its most damaging welfare reforms.
A “human catastrophe”
Last week, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) met in Geneva, Switzerland. It was assessing how well the UK government is sticking to its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People, which the government ratified in 2009. The UNCRPD has been hearing evidence from disabled people’s organisations, charities and NGOs. But it has also been hearing counter-arguments from the British government.
And the UNCRPD was unequivocal in its opinion on how disabled people are treated by the Conservative government. Its Chair, Theresia Degener, said in a statement seen by The Canary:
Evidence before us now and in our inquiry procedure as published in our 2016 report reveals that [welfare] cut policies [have] led to human catastrophe in your country, totally neglecting the vulnerable situation people with disabilities find themselves in.
The committee condemned the UK’s attempts to misrepresent the impact of policies through “unanswered questions”, “misused statistics”, and a “smoke screen of statements”. It also said the government had introduced policies and legislation which “fail to implement” disabled people’s rights in “reality”. And now, the UNCRPD has released its findings.
A damning indictment
The UNCRPD only noted two areas which it considered “positive” in the Tory government’s approach to disabled people. But it has highlighted nearly 70 areas where it either “notes concern” or is “concerned” or “deeply concerned” about the Tories’ treatment of disabled people. These include:
- The Tories’ failure to implement the human rights of disabled people into law, and their lack of “understanding” of human rights laws.
- That austerity and welfare reforms had resulted in “higher levels of poverty” and a “reduced standard of living” for disabled people.
- That benefits sanctions have a “detrimental impact” on disabled people.
- The fact that existing laws openly “discriminate” against disabled people, and the Tories have done nothing to address this.
- Concerns about how Brexit will impact on disabled people.
- Successive governments not involving disabled people’s organisations in law-making processes.
- “Perceptions in society stigmatising persons with disabilities as living a life of less value”.
- That anti-discrimination laws do not provide “comprehensive and appropriate protection” to disabled people. And that the legal system didn’t treat perpetrators of discrimination seriously enough.
The committee was also concerned that:
- Aspects of housing, specifically “common” areas, breach the government’s own Equality Act 2010.
- The rights of women and girls with disabilities not being “mainstreamed” onto the political agenda.
- Human rights laws for children with disabilities have not been implemented fully.
- The lack of action by the government to tackle poverty in families with disabled members.
- Levels of “negative attitudes, stereotypes and prejudice” seen by disabled people.
- The Tories’ failure to make accessibility on public transport, in affordable housing and in public spaces for disabled people “obligatory”.
- Decision-making in terms of the end of a disabled person’s life has been watered down; that government policy is “inconsistent with the right to life of persons with disabilities as equal and contributing members of society”.
- Disabled people not being treated equally, overall, in terms of the law.
It also noted:
- Cuts to legal aid.
- That government measures to “prevent all forms of exploitation, violence and abuse against persons with disabilities” were “insufficient”.
- Disabled people are still being “subjected to involuntary medical treatment, including forced sterilization, and conversion surgeries”.
- The Tories failing to make the right to independent living a legal right, and that “many persons with disabilities are still institutionalised”.
- The segregation of disabled children into “special needs” schools.
- “Systemic” failures meaning disabled people still cannot fully access “mainstream health services”.
- The Tories’ failure to bridge the employment gap for disabled people.
- A lack of disabled politicians, and the barriers for disabled people surrounding politics and voting.
A swathe of recommendations
The UNCRPD has made over 90 recommendations to the Conservative government. Overarching in nature, the stand-out one was that the Tories must “repeal” the 2017 changes to Personal Independence Payments (PIP). It also states that “criteria and assessments” for PIP, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit must meet basic disabled human rights standards.
The UNCRPD also stated that the government must carry out a “cumulative impact assessment” on all its welfare reforms, both past and future ones, and change these policies where needed if they have been found to regress disabled people’s quality of life.
But there was one area that the UNCRPD was “deeply concerned” about. It stated:
The Committee is concerned about the continued use of physical, mechanical and chemical restraint, including the use of Taser guns and similar weapons on persons with disabilities that affects persons with psychosocial disabilities, in prisons, the youth justice system, health-care and education settings, as well as practices of segregation and seclusion. The Committee is deeply concerned that these measures disproportionally affect black or other persons with disabilities belonging to ethnic minorities.
The government’s response?
A DWP spokesman said:
The UK is a recognised world leader in disability rights and equality, which is why we supported the development of the UN convention. Almost 600,000 disabled people have moved into work over the last four years and we spend over £50 billion a year to support disabled people and those with health conditions – more than ever before. This first periodic review will help build on our progress to empower disabled people in all aspects of their lives.
Disabled people’s response?
Ellen Clifford of the National Steering Group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) told The Canary:
The Concluding Observations reflect how seriously the UN disability committee are taking the situation in the UK, with the highest number of recommendations ever given by them. In the press conference today members again stated that the UK is going backwards in critical rights such as the right to live in the community with adequate support and the human cost of government austerity measures.
They have also been clear in their expectation that the government needs to take on board the findings of their inquiry which found evidence of grave and systematic violations of Disabled people’s rights due to welfare reform. It is utterly shameful that this should be happening in one of the richest nations in the world. We all now need to take a stance that enough is enough and demand that the government acknowledge reality.
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams told The Canary:
The UN Committee, in making such a high number of recommendations to a nation state, has found that this Tory government is still failing sick and disabled people. Their damning report highlights what many disabled people already know to be true, that they are being forced to bear the brunt of failed Tory austerity policies. The Committee also expressed concerns about future rights for disabled people after Brexit.
This confirms what Labour has been saying all along, that the lack of progress on all Convention articles, including cruel changes to social security and the punitive sanctions regime, are causing real misery for sick and disabled people.
A truly shaming verdict
If this was happening in a Middle Eastern country, the US would probably have invaded by now, under the guise of ‘humanitarian’ grounds.
The Tories’ response to all these reports? To simply shrug their shoulders and say they didn’t believe them.
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. As The Canary noted last week:
It is quickly becoming unclear as to what it will take to give disabled people the rights and recognition in the UK they deserve. But something has to change. And it has to change quickly.
And with this, possibly the most overarching and critical report by the UN so far, change is needed now more than ever.
– Write to your MP, asking them to support the UN findings.
Featured image via YouTube