The decision to honour 10 Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) civil servants in the new year honours list has been greeted with anger and disbelief by disabled campaigners.
The awards were made at the end of a year in which the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) concluded, after a lengthy investigation – focusing on DWP – that the UK government had breached disabled people’s human rights across three key parts of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The committee found that the government was guilty of “grave or systematic violations” of the convention, and that its welfare reforms had “disproportionally and adversely affected” the rights of disabled people and had discriminated against them.
But despite those findings – and continuing anger at links between the reforms and the deaths of claimants of disability benefits – two DWP directors have been awarded CBEs in recognition of their services to welfare reform.
Angela MacDonald, DWP’s director of operational excellence, was recognised for “services to welfare reform”, while Graeme Wallace, its pensions director, was honoured for “services to pensioners and welfare reform”.
DWP’s director of human resources, Jonathan Russell, was one of 14 civil servants to be made Companions of the Order of the Bath, while there were OBEs for two district managers, and MBEs for five more DWP civil servants.
But it was the awarding of the two CBEs that has caused most anger.
Disability rights activist Alice Kirby said on Twitter – in a message shared more than 1,000 times on the social media platform – that the reforms MacDonald and Wallace were being recognised for were “literally killing disabled people”.
She told Disability News Service: “There is nothing honorary about the restructure of the welfare state.
“Commending senior directors who have helped to implement these reforms in this way only legitimises the Tories’ persecution of disabled people.
“It legitimises what the UN has declared a violation of human rights.
“It’s a slap in the face to people across the country struggling and living in poverty because of welfare reforms.
“And I can think of no bigger insult to families who have lost loved ones then to hang medals around the necks of those who administered the very system which caused their deaths.
“Those who truly deserve recognition are the advocates who work tirelessly to support people through this system, and the activists who relentlessly campaign against it.”
Linda Burnip, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “It is obscene that having been found guilty of the grave and systematic violation of disabled people’s human rights, the government feel it is fitting to reward those involved in the callous and deadly welfare reforms with honours.”
Another disabled activist, Rick Burgess, said on Twitter that the recognition for DWP civil servants came “despite UN condemnation for sanctions, workfare and deaths they have caused”.
Disabled student Lee Michael Done added: “This is the same DWP who are under investigation by the UN for deaths directly caused by its welfare policies. Shocking.”
And disability rights campaigner @thisisamy_ said: “Welfare reform has caused untold suffering and is destroying social security, and DWP workers are being honoured for it…”
Asked if the department understood the anger of disabled campaigners, whether it defended such recognition for a department so heavily criticised by the UN, and if the CBEs for the two directors were intended as a snub to CRPD, a DWP spokesman said: “Honours are an important way to recognise an exceptional contribution to public service.
“We are proud that eight of our Jobcentre Plus staff have been honoured for their hard work improving the lives of people in their community.
“The process for selection is transparent and robust, nominations are considered by one of nine expert honours committees, chaired by a non-civil servant and comprising a majority of non-civil service members, all selected after open advertisement.”