Government’s UN report ‘wilfully ignores’ spending cuts


A government report on how it is implementing the United Nations disability convention fails to include a single mention of how the coalition’s spending cuts and welfare reforms will undermine disabled people’s rights.

The draft version of the report – the first that will be submitted to the UN on the UK’s performance on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – was published this week by the Office for Disability Issues (ODI).

It describes measures that have been and are being taken across the UK on each of the convention’s articles.

But it skates over the brutal public sector funding cuts being carried out by the coalition government, and their likely impact on disabled people’s human rights, such as the right to live independently, have an adequate standard of living, participate in public life, and enjoy equal access to justice.

In the section on article 28, which describes disabled people’s right to an adequate standard of living and social protection, the report accepts that disabled adults in Britain are twice as likely to live in persistent poverty as non-disabled adults.

But it makes no mention of the impact of ever-tightening eligibility criteria for care services being introduced by local authorities, government plans to impose a one-year time limit on claiming “contributory” employment and support allowance (ESA) and cut spending on disability living allowance (DLA) by 20 per cent, or the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) to new members.

And there is no explicit mention of plans to remove the mobility component of DLA from disabled people in residential care.

Instead, the report says that the design of the new personal independence payment – which will replace DLA – will “include any subsequent changes to the mobility component of the DLA for people in residential care”.

There is also no mention in the report of the work capability assessment – which tests disabled people’s “fitness for work” and has led to widespread protests and campaigns around its unfairness. The assessment has been central to the welfare reforms introduced by both the Labour and coalition governments.

Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said the government had “significantly undermined” the report by “wilfully ignoring” its own cuts agenda.

He said the cuts would impact on a string of convention rights across independent living, participation, freedom from abuse, access to information and health.

He added: “Most worryingly, the report makes no mention of the closure of the ILF or the numbers of disabled people who may lose DLA or ESA.

“These cuts will substantially undermine disabled people’s ability to live independently and be included in the community.”

In some parts of the report, the government accepts there is work to do on disability rights.

On article 13, access to justice, the report says disabled people are “less likely than non-disabled people to think that the criminal justice system is fair… a challenge which the UK is determined to overcome”.

On article 19, living independently and being included in the community, the report accepts that nearly one in four disabled people “believe that they do not frequently have choice and control over their lives”.

And on article 27, work and employment, the report admits that “disabled people in the UK currently face a variety of challenges in getting and keeping a job”, with the employment rate for disabled people in the last quarter of 2010 across Britain at 46.8 per cent compared with 70.6 per cent for non-disabled people.

The UK Disabled People’s Council is leading a project – Disability Rights Watch UK – to compile a separate, independent report to the UN based on evidence from disabled people and their organisations, while the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Human Rights Commission will also submit reports to the UN.

Stephen Thrower, head of the ODI’s UN convention and international team, said its report followed UN guidelines and had to “cover a lot of ground in a limited space”, providing a “fairly high-level snapshot” of progress on implementation.

He said: “Feedback will influence the final document, and we may include information that isn’t in the draft.

“Views will also inform a new government disability strategy to drive equality and implementation of the convention.”

The deadline for submitting comments on the draft report is 20 June.

19 May 2011