A UN human rights committee has been handed evidence of potential violations of chronically ill and disabled peoples’ rights. Crucially, this includes deaths under the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) watch. It comes as the UN is preparing to investigate the UK government again after its previous report accused it of “grave” and “systematic” violations of human rights.
As The Canary previously reported, the UN is getting ready to investigate the UK government again over how it treats chronically ill and disabled people. 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 like the UK have signed up to it. Some, like the US, have not:
The convention has a series of “articles” that the UNCRPD says countries should abide by to protect chronically ill and disabled people’s human rights. These include:
- Right to life.
- Living independently and being included in the community.
- Work and employment.
- 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.
DWP: “grave” and “systematic” human rights violations
The UN accused successive governments and the DWP of “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights. In August 2017, the UNCRPD followed up on its report; this included its chair accusing the government and the DWP of creating a “human catastrophe” for disabled people.
The Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance is a group of Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs). It’s created a shadow report it will send to the UNCRPD. It documents how well the UK government is sticking to the convention. Inclusion London is a DPO which is part of the alliance. It’s now released the shadow report, and its findings make for disturbing reading.
28,000 words of damning evidence
The report is over 28,000 words. It summed up by saying that the main “themes” found for what it refers to as Deaf and Disabled People (DDP) were:
- Intersectionality: disadvantage and barriers are compounded, for example for Disabled women, Black DDP and DDP from racialised minorities, DDP who are LGBTQ+, asylum seekers, refugees or have No Recourse to Public Funds.
- Continued retrogression: worse conditions across many aspects of DDP’s lives.
- Institutionalisation: a specific aspect of retrogression that reinforces, and is underpinned by Theme 6 on our lives being undervalued.
- Silencing DDP: the further marginalisation of DDP and our voices, in the face of continued retrogression.
- Disaster Planning and Humanitarian Emergencies: failures to consider DDP in fundamental aspects of public policy development.
- Lives less worthy: the response to the pandemic, and other policy responses that under value DDP’s lives.
The report’s key conclusions were that:
- There has been continued regression since the last public examination of the UK under the CRDP in 2017.
- Westminster Government (WeG) has adopted progressive initiatives in discrete areas but has not addressed the fundamental issues affecting DDP’s lives.
- The COVID-19 pandemic response discriminated against DDP and violated our equal right to life.
- Disability equality and human rights approaches towards disability have been further undermined since 2017.
- There is insufficient monitoring and promotion of the CRDP by WeG.
Systemic, government-led discrimination and abuses?
Some of the detail in the report pointed to systemic, government-led abuses that fall under the CRPD. For example, the:
- Government has eroded support for DDP to live independently in the community so much that the alliance claims it now breaches 11 other articles of the CRPD.
- The DWP has by design disadvantaged DDP by making Universal Credit “digital by default”.
- The “Equality Act 2010 is inadequate as a means of protecting DDP rights to access” public transport.
- Government rhetoric and media representations concerning benefit cheats has led to DPP experiencing “increased… hostility”. Hate crimes against DDP have risen.
The report also noted that:
- “In 2018 there were 365,000 DDP living in unsuitable properties”.
- By January 2020, the DWP had removed 102,000 Motability customers’ Personal Independence Payment (PIP) awards that “entitled them to vehicles”.
- The government has ‘severely and deliberately retrogressed’ DPP’s right to inclusive education.
- “Disabled workers earn one fifth (20%) less than non-Disabled workers. Disabled women face the biggest pay gap, paid on average 36%… less than non-disabled men”.
- “Nearly half of those in poverty, 6.8 million people, are from families in which someone is Disabled”.
- 62% of “working-age people referred to food banks in early 2020 were Disabled”.
- The DWP and government have ‘done nothing’ “to bring benefit assessments in line with a human rights approach”.
- “Over 2000 people with learning difficulties/ who are autistic are in inpatient [hospital] units where they are at increased risk of abuse and neglect”.
- DDP and chronically ill people have brought 23 judicial reviews against either the government or non-governmental bodies since 2017.
But it’s the list of deaths on the DWP’s watch which is particularly harrowing.
Intolerable numbers of deaths under the DWP
The report lists the following “publicly known benefit deaths since 2017”. Some of these people took their own lives after the DWP stopped their social security:
- February 2017: Jodey Whiting.
- 13 February 2017: James ‘Jimmy’ Ballentine.
- 30 September 2017: Brian Sycamore.
- October 2017: Amy Nice.
- October 2017: Chris Gold.
- November 2017: Elaine Morrall.
- December 2017: Daniella Obeng.
- June 2018: Errol Graham.
- June 2018: Jeff Hayward.
- 17 July 2018: Brian Bailey.
- April 2019 Stephen Smith.
- November 2018: Roy Curtis.
- December 2018: Kevin Dooley.
- 26 January 2019: Alexander Boamah.
- August 2019: Phillipa Day.
- 9 April 2020: Terence Talbot.
- 26 December 2020: Philip Pakree.
But these people are not the only ones who died on the DWP’s watch. As Disability News Service (DNS) reported, the DWP has had to investigate 164 deaths from January 2017 to July 2021.
Moreover, as The Canary previously reported, in 2018 alone there could have been 750 (if not more) people who took their own lives while claiming from the DWP. The alliance’s report also stated that a survey found that:
of 3,500 survey respondents, 13 per cent said they had attempted suicide as a result of interacting with the DWP. A third said it had caused them to plan suicide, while 61 per cent said the way the system is implemented led them to have suicidal thoughts.
Overall, there were around 35,000 deaths of claimants across the years preceding and just after the previous UNCRPD report. These people died either waiting for the DWP to sort their claims or after it said they were well enough to work or start moving towards work.
DWP and government: in the frame for human rights abuses once more
At the time of the last UNCRPD report, it seemed unfathomable that the government and DWP could have abused and regressed chronically ill, deaf, and disabled peoples’ human rights any further. But here we are, over five years later, and they have made that situation materialise.
The alliance’s report makes for shocking reading. Yet its contents are probably unsurprising to most people affected by successive governments policies and the DWP. Now, we wait for the UNCRPD to deliver its delayed report. The Canary understands the UNCRPD will start the process sometime this year.
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