Tories have backed out of a UN meeting on their breaches of human rights

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The United Nations (UN) is once again investigating the UK government over its treatment of chronically ill and disabled people. As part of that process, it asked to meet with members of the current Tory administration. The UN wanted them to give evidence on what they’ve done since it last investigated the UK. At that time, the UN accused the Tories of “grave” and “systematic” human rights violations. Shockingly though, the Tories have said they are not going to attend the UN meeting this time around.


The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is a human rights branch of the UN. It oversees the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Many countries, the UK included, have signed up to it. Some, like the US and Russia, have not.

The convention has a series of ‘articles’ that the UNCRPD says countries should abide by in order to protect chronically ill and disabled people’s human rights. These include:

  • Accessibility.
  • The right to life.
  • Living independently and being included in the community.
  • An adequate standard of living and social protection

Every so often, the UNCRPD monitors countries to see if they are sticking to these articles or not. The last time the committee looked at the UK was in 2016. And the report was damning.

‘Grave’ and ‘systematic’ rights violations

In August 2017, the UNCRPD followed up on its report; this included its chair accusing the government of creating a “human catastrophe” for disabled people. You can read the Canary‘s full analysis here.

As the Canary reported at the time:

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

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  • 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.

In 2018, the government effectively whitewashed the report. Now, the UNCRPD is preparing to investigate the UK again. As part of this process, Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) have come together to collate evidence. What they’ve found is damning. You can read the Canary‘s full analysis of the report here, but as one of its conclusions summed up:

There has been continued regression since the last public examination of the UK under the CRDP

With that in mind, the UNCRPD summoned the Tory government to Geneva for Monday 28 August. However, ministers have backed out of the meeting.

‘Scared of the bad publicity’

As Disability News Service (DNS) reported:

The government has told the UN committee that monitors implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that it does not want to be examined in public on its progress

DNS noted that the Tory government has said it:

will not give its evidence until next March.

The UN asked the DPOs who prepared their reported to attend in Geneva, too. This is still happening. However, they will then have to attend in March 2024 as well. Disabled activist Ellen Clifford told DNS:

It is not surprising that the government has chosen not to participate in the special inquiry follow-up this year given that their treatment of Deaf and disabled people is publicly indefensible.

They are consciously breaching and ignoring substantive obligations under the convention and there is clear evidence of further retrogression.

She also told DNS that the Tories were:

scared of the bad publicity at a time when they are in a weakened position with continuing industrial disputes and unhappiness due to the cost-of-living crisis and had hoped to avoid further critical scrutiny and bad press through attempting to postpone the session.

Where next for chronically ill and disabled people?

It is likely that the UNCRPD’s latest investigation will result in an even worse assessment of the situation in the UK for chronically ill and disabled people than its 2016 one. For example, as the Canary previously wrote:

The report will come against the backdrop of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic… Disabled people suffered disproportionately… making up 58% of all deaths between 24 January 2020 and 28 February 2021. Furthermore, countless people experienced cuts to their care and support…

As always with the UNCRPD, though, there’s little it can do in reality. The CRPD as a set of rules is not legally binding under UK law. It is up to the government whether or not it incorporates part or all of it into domestic legislation. So, the UNCRPD can give its most damning report since the last one – and in reality little will change.

This is, of course, exactly what happened in the wake of the 2016 report. So, it will be down to chronically ill and disabled people and campaign groups to continue to hold the Tories’ feet to the fire.

Featured image via Inclusion Europe – YouTube

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