Disability rights under attack: Rights ‘are regressing in every area’, says leading DPO


Disabled people’s rights are regressing in every area of their lives, while the government has “abandoned” its target of ensuring full equality, according to new research by a leading disabled people’s organisation.

The information paper, published by Inclusion London – which supports 78 user-led organisations across the capital – provides evidence of multiple breaches of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

It says that disabled people are reporting less choice and control in their lives, growing poverty, “dramatically” decreasing levels of support, and increasing levels of hostility towards them as a result of the “scapegoating” of benefit claimants.

It also accuses the government of the “systematic” introduction of policies that discriminate against disabled people.

The Inclusion London report was released days before the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) own five-year review of progress on social justice concluded today (Friday) that disabled people’s rights have gone backwards over the last five years.

Inclusion London’s report – which is based on more up-to-date research than the EHRC’s – concludes that rights have regressed in access to benefits, employment, access to justice, and disabled people’s right to self-organise and have a say in policy-making.

The report says: “Not only have cuts and changes removed essential support from Deaf and disabled people but our ability to challenge injustice and defend our rights has been eroded through the removal of access to legal aid, removal of funding from advice and advocacy services and a weakening of the public sector equality duty.”

It says the government has abandoned the target set by the Labour government in 2005 of achieving disability equality by 2025.

And it accuses the government of trying to hide what it has been doing behind “misrepresentation of statistics”, and “feeding misinformation to the media, and creating a narrative that is hostile to benefit claimants”.

Among the areas the report covers are cuts to social care, the closure of the Independent Living Fund, rising levels of poverty, cuts to disability benefits, harsher benefits assessments, the shortage of accessible housing, benefit sanctions, the bedroom tax, disability hate crime, and cuts to people’s Access to Work packages and to legal aid.

It also examines the increasingly difficult financial environment faced by Deaf and disabled people’s organisations, with many closing or “increasingly struggling to survive”.

Tracey Lazard (pictured, right), chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “It confirms that the experience of Deaf and disabled people’s organisations, and of Deaf and disabled people, is that things are getting a lot worse.

“Things are deteriorating, rights are regressing across all areas of life, including participation, independent living, inclusion, you name it…”

She said the report was “yet more evidence to add to what is, we think, a pretty sizeable mountain of evidence”, and an attempt to provide people with an informed opinion “about what is going on”.

She added: “It is unfortunate that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. It is pretty universally bleak, but that is the experience people are facing every day and this backs that up and confirms that.”

The paper was published as the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities completed its evidence-gathering visit to the UK, as part of an ongoing, confidential inquiry into alleged “grave and systematic” violations of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

But it has also emerged that another UN body is reviewing the UK’s compliance with its international human rights obligations, this time under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

This review – which the UN stressed was “not an investigation or inquiry launched in response to a particular situation” – will look at issues such as whether austerity measures introduced through the coalition’s welfare reforms “disproportionately” affected marginalised groups, such as disabled people, asylum-seekers, and women.

The issues they will examine include disabled people’s access to employment, housing and an adequate standard of living.

The UK will be one of seven countries – including France and Sweden – examined by the committee on economic, social and cultural rights, as part of the programme of regular reviews carried out every few years of countries that have ratified the ICESCR. The UK was last reviewed in 2009.

Discussions between the committee and the UK government are likely to take place in public next June, with the committee’s findings due to be published “on or around 24 June”.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said: “The committee on economic, social and cultural rights will indeed be reviewing the UK and six other countries next June as part of its regular cycle of examinations.  

“It is not an investigation or inquiry launched in response to a particular situation. As the UK has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, it undergoes periodic reviews of its record.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman added: “This is not an investigation but a routine request for information that occurs every few years as part of the periodic reporting process to the UN.

“We are committed to supporting disabled people and spend around £50 billion every year on disabled people and their services.”

Meanwhile, the mental health charity Mind has published research that shows DWP issued more than three times as many benefit sanctions to people with mental health conditions than the number of people supported into work.

The charity says almost 19,259 benefits sanctions were handed to people who were out of work because of their mental health in 2014-15, while only 6,340 people in this group were successfully supported into a job in the same period. 

The Mind figures, secured through Freedom of Information Act requests to DWP, relate to people claiming the out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance (ESA) primarily because of their mental health.

Those placed in the work-related activity group of ESA can have their benefits sanctioned – temporarily cut or stopped – if they fail to carry out certain activities.

Only last week, ministers rejected a call by MPs on the work and pensions select committee to order a full, independent review of the sanctions regime and the conditions placed upon benefit claimants.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “It is perverse that people with mental health problems are more likely to have their benefits stopped than they are to be supported into employment.

“We have long been warning the government that a punitive approach towards people who are out of work because of their health or disability is not only ineffective but is causing a great deal of distress.

“By continuing to refuse to listen to the numerous expert voices calling for a fundamental rethink of the use of sanctions, the government is not only undermining its ambition of helping a million more disabled people into work, but is also failing its duty of care for the health and wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of people with mental health problems.”

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