The government’s welfare reforms and cuts to disability benefits and services are putting disabled people’s right to independent living at risk, according to a new report by peers and MPs.
The joint committee on human rights report warns of a “significant risk” that the government’s policies will breach the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The idea of holding an inquiry into disabled people’s right to independent living came from the disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, a member of the committee.
The Implementation of the Right of Disabled People to Independent Living report delivers a number of crucial messages to the government, many of which mirror the concerns of the disability movement.
The report points to cuts in funding for local authorities and tighter eligibility criteria for council-funded care and support, the reform of disability living allowance (DLA), a proposed cap on housing benefit, and the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) to new applicants.
In combination, the report says, these reforms “risk interacting in a particularly harmful way for disabled people” and could force many into residential care, and it calls on the government to assess their overall impact on independent living.
It also calls for a new legal right to independent living – a long-standing demand of the disability movement.
The committee says it fears that replacing working-age DLA with a new personal independence payment will restrict disabled people’s ability to overcome barriers to independent living, while closing ILF to new applicants “may severely limit the ability of disabled people to participate in society”.
The committee’s report focuses on article 19 of the convention, which states that disabled people have an “equal right” to “live in the community with choices equal to others”.
But it says the convention – particularly article 19 – does not appear to have played a “central role” in government policy-making.
It is also critical of the minister for disabled people, Maria Miller, for stating – incorrectly and publicly – that the convention “does not have legal standing” and is therefore only “soft law” rather than “hard law”.
The report says the government’s forthcoming disability strategy must be “robust, targeted and deliverable”, co-produced with disabled people, and should describe exactly how it will deliver a right to independent living for disabled people, including action on access to housing, transport, public spaces and public services.
In another implied criticism of the coalition, the committee calls on the government to “involve disabled people in the development of policy, rather than simply consult them”.
And it warns the government – particularly Miller and her fellow ministers – that disability hate crime is a “growing threat” to disabled people’s ability to live independently and that the government’s “justifications” for welfare reform could be undermining any efforts to “promote positive perceptions and greater social awareness” towards disabled people.
Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, welcomed the report, which she said was “an unequivocal warning to the government that their reform puts disabled people’s lives at risk”.
She added: “We urge the government to take real steps to ensure that disabled people have the same level of choice and control and freedom in their daily lives as other non-disabled people.”
A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokeswoman said it would consider the report and respond “in due course”.
But she said the new cross-government disability strategy – due out later this year – would “give renewed impetus to enabling disabled people to fulfil their potential”.
She added: “We welcome the committee’s acknowledgement that this government is committed to removing barriers and creating opportunities for disabled people, and that the UK is a world-leader on disability rights and in relation to independent living in particular.
“We continue to spend over £40 billion a year on disabled people and their services and our welfare reforms will ensure that support is focused on those who need it most – those facing the greatest barriers to living an independent life.”
1 March 2012