A DWP minister is accused of breaching international law. But the government will just ignore it.

The DWP logo and Sarah Newton
Steve Topple

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) minister is accused of breaching an international treaty. To make matters worse, her alleged breach directly relates to UN accusations of previous breaches of the same treaty.

The DWP minister: breaching international law?

As Disability News Service (DNS) reported, a coalition of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have slammed minister of state for disabled people Sarah Newton over her refusal to meet with them, after she previously indicated she would. They were going to discuss a UN report which accused the DWP and successive governments of “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights.

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In letters seen by The Canary, Newton refused to meet with them. This has prompted DNS to accuse her of breaching the same treaty the UN previously declared the government had breached multiple times.

“Grave” and “systematic” human rights violations

In November 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) released a report into whether the UK government was meeting its legal obligations. These fall under the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People, which the UK government ratified in 2009.

You can read The Canary‘s full analysis here. In short, the UN accused successive governments and the DWP of “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights. Some of its main criticisms were that the UK government had violated rights through:

  • The Bedroom Tax.
  • Changes to Personal Independence Payments (PIP).
  • Cuts to social care.
  • Caps on benefits.

As The Canary previously reported, last August the UNCRPD met again to assess the UK government’s response to its report, and also further analyse the situation for disabled people in the UK.

The committee’s assessment was damning. Its chair, Theresia Degener, said successive governments and the DWP had created a “human catastrophe” for disabled people.

‘Misusing statistics’

It condemned the UK government’s attempts to misrepresent the impact of policies through “unanswered questions”, “misused statistics”, and a “smoke screen of statements”. Also, it said the government had introduced policies and legislation which “fail to implement” disabled people’s rights in “reality”.

But to date, the government has repeatedly refused to recognise the UN’s findings. Newton herself effectively whitewashed the report during a parliamentary debate.

A series of letters

So, in February the DPOs wrote to Theresa May, asking for a meeting over the report. At the time, Newton responded in her role as a DWP minister, saying:

I strongly welcome your proposal of a meeting to discuss how Government is implementing the concluding observations of the… [UN]… This closely fits with the work I have been leading…

But nothing happened.

Then, head of the DPO Inclusion London Tracy Lazard emailed Newton about the meeting. So, Newton sent another letter in July. In it, she said:

Unfortunately, due to ongoing diary commitments, I will not be able to meet with you at the present time, for which I extend my apologies.

So, the coalition of DPOs has hit back. In a letter sent on 22 August, they expressed “deep disappointment and concern” over Newton’s refusal to meet with them.

But crucially, the coalition noted that:

As we hope you are aware engagement with Disabled Peoples Organisations (organisations that are run and controlled by Disabled people and therefore distinct from Disability charities which are not user-led) is not only an on-going key requirement of the UNCRPD as detailed in articles 4 and 33 but it also makes common sense.

How can the Government improve the lives of Disabled people if it is not engaging directly with Disabled people? In the words of your colleague, Penny Mordant ‘When Disabled people are included great things happen’.

Newton under pressure

So, has Newton breached article’s four and 33 of the UNCRPD? DNS thinks so. As it reported:

CRPD says (in article four) that governments must, in implementing the convention, ‘closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities… through their representative organizations’.

It also says (article 33) that ‘civil society, in particular persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, shall be involved and participate fully’ in monitoring the implementation of the convention in each country.

Newton’s letter appears to breach both article four and article 33 as the coalition has been seeking a ministerial meeting since February.

The Canary asked the DWP for comment, but it had not responded by the time of publication.

International shame

Since June 2016, there have been five international reports accusing the government of breaching various legal agreements on the human rights of sick and disabled people. The government’s response has been to pour scorn on the reports, and not recognise any of their findings. And now a minister is accused of flouting international conventions. But with UNCRPD chair Degener giving a lecture in the UK in October, the DWP and the government may well find themselves in for even more criticism.

Get Involved!

Read more from DNS and support its editor John Pring’s work.

– Support the organisations in the coalition: Disability WalesThe Alliance for Inclusive EducationDisabled People Against CutsSisters of FridaInclusion ScotlandMental Health Resistance Network and the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance.

Featured image via UK government – Wikimedia and Chris McAndrew – Wikimedia 

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