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UN Says that UK “Violated” Disability Rights

It is being hailed as a victory for disability rights campaigners. Last week, the UN released a report into the UK government’s treatment of disability rights. The end of a four-year investigation, the report concluded that the UK had engaged in “grave or systematic violations” with regard to disability cuts enacted during the last parliament. DPAC and other disability campaigners claim that it is vindication of their actions in protesting the UK government since 2010.

Disabled People Against Cuts

Disability RightsDPAC formed in October 2010 during the last Parliament. Upset with coalition plans, it set about challenging what it saw as the dangerous cuts to disability benefits. The group’s formation immediately followed protests in Birmingham. Spurred on by support inside and outside the disability community, they organised and devised their own constitution so that people could set up their own local groups and affiliate. It has only grown since then.

This mass movement led to the founding members calling on the United Nations to investigate. In 2012, the main leaders including its founder Debbie Jolly approached the CRPD (Committee on Rights of Persons with Disabilities) and applied for a formal investigation. The UN began that investigation in 2013 and published their results last week.

The CRPD’s Eleven Measures

The main report found a number of grave concerns in its conclusion and made 11 recommendations, some of which we list here:

  • To conduct an impact assessment of disability rights on all measures adopted since 2010. This assessment should involve disabled persons
  • To ensure that welfare reform considers disability rights while upholding human rights. It should not adversely affect rights to independent living amongst other things
  • To ensure legislative measures and policies adheres to international human rights for persons with disabilities
  • To ensure that public funding and budgets make allowances for rights of persons with disabilities. Further, it recommended that sufficient extra budgeting be made available for extra costs
  • Maintain access to equal justice and provide (where necessary) the appropriate legal support and advice, and reasonable accommodation, for persons with disabilities seeking legal action
  • To consult with persons with disabilities through organisations, giving necessary weight to their viewpoints and requirements in the legal process or policies
  • To take all and any appropriate measures against negative and discriminatory behaviour, stereotypes and prejudice regarding persons with disabilities
  • Establish a mechanism for monitoring impact of policies and legislation on the human rights of persons with disabilities

What Now?

The easy part is over, not that the process to date was easy. There is still a long way to go to challenging the reforms and making them fairer for the people that they will most affect. In response, the government rejected the report and all 11 of the proposals. Damian Green said that the findings were “out of date” and the government reforms had “moved on since then”. It further criticised the UN for “focusing too much on the ESA” (Employment Support Allowance). Naturally, DPAC responded in a matter of days to the government’s rejection.

In their own report, DPAC pointed out that they had spent the last four years sending updates. If anything, they say, things have got worse since the Independent Living Fund closed, the introduction of the Benefits Cap, £30 per week cuts to Employment Support Allowance from April 2017 for those in the Work Related Activity Group. Finally, they singled out Universal Credit as being particularly punishing for people with disabilities.

In the short term, there will be little change. However, the UK – as a signatory of the UN – is under obligation to make changes in line with international law. There could be months or years of negotiation to come.