The prime minister has had to defend his record on disability rights twice in a minute, after being questioned about both a UN inquiry and the death of a north London man failed by the discredited work capability assessment.
David Cameron (pictured) was first asked by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, in the weekly prime minister’s questions, if he would “co-operate fully” with the UN’s inquiry into “grave and systematic” violations of its disability convention by the UK.
Corbyn told the prime minister that it was “very sad news indeed” that such an inquiry was necessary, and asked him to pledge to “publish in full the government’s response to it”.
It had earlier emerged that although a team from the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) are in the UK questioning scores of disabled people as part of their inquiry – the existence of which was first revealed by Disability News Service (DNS) last August – a final report on their findings may not be published until 2017.
Among the issues being raised during the inquiry – which is being carried out under conditions of strict confidentiality – are believed to be the government’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund; cuts to legal aid; benefit cuts and sanctions, including the impact of the work capability assessment (WCA); the severe shortage of accessible, affordable housing; the impact of the bedroom tax on disabled people; cuts to social care; and the rise in disability hate crime.
Cameron told Corbyn that he would co-operate with the inquiry, but said that such UN investigations were “not necessarily all they are originally cracked up to be”.
He said that “because of legislation passed by a previous Conservative government [the Disability Discrimination Act 1995], we have some of the strongest equality legislation anywhere in the world when it comes to disability”.
He added: “There are many disabled people in our world who do not have any of the rights or any of the support that they get here in Britain, and I think we should be proud of what we do as we co-operate with this report.”
But just a minute later, Angus Robertson, the SNP’s leader in Westminster, raised the case of Michael O’Sullivan, the north London man who took his own life as a result of being found “fit for work” following a WCA, a case revealed last month by DNS.
He asked whether Cameron would publish the secret reviews it has carried out into individual cases of benefit-related suicides – again first exposed by DNS – which are almost certain to include an inquiry into the death of Michael O’Sullivan.
Cameron said he was “aware of the case” but that “it would not be appropriate for me to discuss the specifics of the cases”, although he said suicide was “always a tragic and complex issue” and that “we should take these matters seriously”.
He said he would “look very carefully” at the question on publishing the internal reviews, but that there had been “significant improvements” to the WCA, following a series of independent reviews.
Michael O’Sullivan’s daughter, Anne-Marie, thanked Robertson for raising her father’s case, and questioned why the WCA system was still unsafe, more than two years after her father died.
She said: “We do not want other families to face the devastation that ours has gone through, but we fear that many have been forced to do so.
“This assessment process is broken and unsafe and we urge the government to halt the WCA immediately until a more transparent and fairer system can be found.”