UN expert to hear disabled people’s austerity testimony


newslatestA UN human rights expert is to visit London later this month to hear first-hand testimony from disabled people about the impact of government cuts and reforms on their lives.

Shuaib Chalklen, the UN’s special rapporteur on disability – whose job is to monitor progress around the world towards equal opportunities – will hear the evidence at an event in north London on 25 November.

Disabled people will be able to tell him their personal stories of how they have been affected by the government’s austerity measures, including cuts and reforms to social care and social security.

The next day Chalklen will be in parliament to launch a major report by Just Fair, a new charity which works in the UK to use human rights to combat poverty and inequality, and to secure social justice.

The Just Fair report will examine the impact of austerity on disabled people’s human rights, including cuts to social care, the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), the imposition of the “bedroom tax”, and cuts to disability living allowance and employment and support allowance.

Chalklen is one of Africa’s most respected disabled figures, having served as a policy analyst for the South African president, as chief executive of the African Decade of Disabled Persons, and as director of South Africa’s Office on the Status of Disabled Persons.

Evidence he collects during his visit is certain to feed into the work of the UN committee monitoring the UK’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Linda Burnip, a co-founder of the grassroots protest group Disabled People Against Cuts, which has contributed to the Just Fair report, welcomed Chalklen’s visit.

She said: “He has been keeping a close eye on what has been happening in Europe and is particularly interested to come to the UK to talk to disabled people and find out more about the impact of the cuts and how they are affecting disabled people.

“We are in a situation where we have what could really be described as a grave and systematic violation of disabled people’s human rights.”

She said it was important that the UN knew how the UK government was failing to implement its convention commitments. “The policies being put in place are very regressive. They are taking rights away, rather than progressively building on to them.”

If Chalklen speaks out during his visit, he would be the fourth major international figure to suggest that the government’s austerity package is risking “social damage”.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot told Disability News Service (DNS) last month that UK government cuts to disability benefits risked widening the health gap between disabled and non-disabled people.

Before that, Dr Laszlo Andor, the European Union’s commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion, told DNS that the UK government should have done more to “minimise the social damage” caused to disabled people and other disadvantaged groups by its austerity measures.

And Raquel Rolnik, the UN’s special rapporteur on housing, called on the UK government to suspend the “bedroom tax” because of its impact on disabled people and other “vulnerable” groups.

14 November 2013