‘Timely’ report warns UK could become ‘systematic violator of rights’


newslatestAn exhaustive and “timely” new report has laid bare the coalition’s failure to meet its human rights obligations to disabled people under international law.

The report suggests that the UK has gone from being an international leader in disability rights to risking becoming a “systematic violator of these same rights”.

Of all the reforms and cuts introduced by the coalition, disabled people who responded to a survey for the report said their greatest concerns were about the employment and support allowance (ESA) system, the new personal independence payment (PIP), and the “bedroom tax”.

The report, Dignity and Opportunity for All: Securing the Rights of Disabled People in the Austerity Era, examines disabled people’s rights to independent living, to work and to fair conditions of employment, to social security, to social protection, and to an adequate standard of living.

These rights have been enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The disabled consultant and campaigner Jane Young, the report’s author, said that work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith appeared to be “particularly ignorant” of the fact that the UK government had obligations under both UNCRPD and ICESCR to ensure its citizens had an adequate standard of living.

Among other cuts and reforms, the report highlights the impact of strict eligibility criteria for PIP, which will “leave many without the help they need”; tightened eligibility criteria for council social care as demand has increased and funding has dropped; and the planned closure of the Independent Living Fund.

The disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who chaired the report’s Westminster launch, said its publication was “incredibly timely” because the UN would begin the process later this year of assessing how well the UK government had met its UNCRPD obligations.

The Just Fair report will be submitted to the committee that will assess the UK’s performance in implementing the UN disability convention.

The report also highlights the frequent failure of housing support in the UK to acknowledge the particular needs of disabled people; the failure of the work capability assessment (WCA) to assess disabled people’s capability for work; the failure of the Work Programme to find disabled people jobs; and the use of benefit sanctions to withdraw benefits from disabled people who cannot comply with work-related conditions due to their physical or mental health.

Among its recommendations, it calls for a legal right to independent living; properly-funded social care; a review of the government’s benefit changes; and an assessment of the cumulative impact of reforms on disabled people’s right to independent living.

It also calls for a dramatic shift in the ethos of the Department for Work and Pensions, so that it focuses on “realising disabled people’s right to work, to social security and to an adequate standard of living”.

And it recommends fundamental reform of the ESA and WCA system so that it takes “proper account of impairment-related and external barriers to employment, drawing more consistently on medical evidence and giving proper consideration to the practical support that may be available to enable claimants to return to work”.

It says employment support for disabled people should be refocused onto “fulfilling disabled people’s right to work that suits their aptitudes, abilities and aspirations”.

The report, published by the Just Fair coalition of nearly 80 organisations – which includes Disability Rights UK, Disabled People Against Cuts and Inclusion London – claims to be the first comprehensive analysis of how the UK government “is meeting its international obligations to realise the rights of disabled people in the austerity era”.

In a statement, Mike Penning, the Conservative minister for disabled people, said it was “simply not true to say we are breaching our international obligations to disabled people”.

He said: “We 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 and better reflect today’s understanding of disability.

“We are fixing a broken welfare system, which trapped tens of thousands of people on incapacity benefit for more than a decade with little done to see if their condition had improved and support them into work.

“This report highlights the importance of helping disabled people who can work into employment, while providing more support for those who can’t – this is at the heart of our welfare reforms.”

9 July 2014