Government criticised by EHRC over disability rights record… for second time in 12 days

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The government has been criticised by the UK’s human rights watchdog over its record on protecting the rights of disabled people, for the second time in just 12 days.

Last week, Disability News Service revealed how the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) had been snubbed by the minister for disabled people after raising serious concerns about her government’s response to a report that found it guilty of “grave or systematic” violations of the UN disability convention.

Now EHRC has submitted a report to the UN on the UK’s progress towards meeting its international human rights obligations across that and other conventions.

EHRC said its report – submitted in advance of the UK government being questioned about its progress by the UN Human Rights Council in May, as part of a five-yearly examination process – provided a “worrying assessment” of human rights protections across Britain.

The report says the government’s social security reforms have had a “particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact” on disabled people’s rights to independent living and an adequate standard of living.

The report also highlights how access to civil justice has “deteriorated significantly” since the UK’s last “universal periodic review” by the UN Human Rights Council in 2012.

David Isaac (pictured), EHRC’s chair, says in the report that disabled people have been hit by “a perfect storm of changes” to their social security entitlements, which the UN has found to be “in breach of their rights to an independent and adequate standard of living”.

EHRC also calls in the report – as it has on several previous occasions – for the UK government to assess the cumulative impact of such reforms when taking future spending decisions, so that life for disabled people “is not made even harder”.

Isaac said that, as a result of legal aid cuts in England and Wales – through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) – and higher employment tribunal fees, there was evidence that disabled people and others were being “priced out of justice”.

Since the new tribunal fees were introduced, disability discrimination cases had fallen by 59 per cent, he said.

The report calls on the UK government to commission independent research on the equality and human rights impacts of LASPO on disabled people, ethnic minorities, children and women, and to “mitigate adverse impacts” from higher employment tribunal fees.

Among other recommendations, the report calls on the UK government, and the Scottish and Welsh devolved governments, to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – and the other six “core” human rights conventions the UK has ratified – into domestic law.

It also calls on the UK government to provide regular estimates of the gaps in hourly pay for disabled workers when compared with non-disabled workers.

And it calls on the UK and devolved governments to address the “educational attainment gaps” experienced by children with special educational needs.

EHRC commissioner Lorna McGregor said: “These are uncertain times and we find ourselves at a crossroads, with decisions taken now deciding if we will still be seen as a global leader in human rights in decades to come.

“This report shows a worrying lack of progress, with society’s most vulnerable and marginalised in danger of being left behind. 

“Our report is solutions-focused and we have made 30 recommendations that we hope the UN will accept and all governments in the UK will act on.”

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