Government’s Zero scores raise UN convention questions


newslatestThe rights of disabled people in the UK have slid sharply backwards over the last year, according to new international research backed by the government.

The Zero Project Report 2014 details the progress made by 130 countries towards implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Last year, the Conservative minister for disabled people, Esther McVey, triumphantly used the findings of the 2013 report to defend her government from accusations that its Paralympic legacy hung in the balance because of cuts to disabled people’s support.

Referring to the report, McVey told MPs last September that, out of the 55 countries covered by the 2013 report, the UK was “leading in all 23 indicators”.

The UK was actually leading in only 15 of the 23 Zero Project Report indicators and even on those categories many other countries shared the same score.

McVey had failed to point out that the Zero Project Report gives each country a green (yes), amber (yes, with qualifications) or red (no) rating for each question/indicator, which meant there were a number of countries “leading” on each indicator.

But an analysis of this year’s report by Disability News Service (DNS) shows the UK’s performance has fallen back in areas such as the accessibility of new buildings, inclusive education, and the lack of public funding for an umbrella group representing disabled people’s organisations.

Looking at the 20 indicators that are directly comparable to last year’s report, the UK has scored just five green ratings, compared with 14 last year, and is in the leading group in just five of the 20 indicators, again compared with 14 out of the 20 comparable indicators last year.

Among the indicators where the UK has dropped from green to amber are the existence of safeguards to ensure that disabled people are free to leave institutional care; the right to free, mainstream, primary education; and whether there is a legal time frame for existing public buildings to become accessible.

The UK is doing even worse in the area of accessibility, the particular area the Zero Project has focused on for its 2014 report.

Out of 12 accessibility indicators – which look at areas such as television and radio programmes, public procurement and taxi services – the UK is in the leading group for just one of them.

Asked whether Mike Penning, the current Conservative minister for disabled people, was concerned about what appeared to be proof that the UK was falling behind other countries in implementing the UN convention, a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman claimed the report showed the UK was “among the very best of this enlarged group of 130 countries”.

DNS also asked if the fact that the UK’s “score” was worse than last year’s in 12 of the 20 comparable categories, and better in just two, was due to more accurate reporting this year or because the government was “de-implementing” parts of the UN convention because of austerity measures.

The spokesman failed to answer the question, but said that “independent reports consistently show that we are world leaders in support for disabled people”.

And he said the UK government continued to spend “around £50 billion a year on disabled people and their services and our reforms will make sure the billions spent give more targeted support to those who need it most”.

6 March 2014