Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have accused the government of maintaining a “head-in-the-sand denial” of its failure to protect disabled people’s human rights.
The criticism came from a coalition of DPOs from across the UK as they wrote to the prime minister, Theresa May, to question the lack of progress in the six months since the UN delivered a “damning” verdict on her government’s record on disability rights, and to ask for a meeting to discuss their concerns.
The UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (UNCRPD) told the UK government in August in its “concluding observations” that it needed to make more than 80 improvements to the ways its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.
In its review of the UK’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Geneva (pictured) – in which members of the coalition played a significant role – the committee raised concerns and made recommendations on all but three of the 33 treaty articles the UK could have breached.
The committee made the highest number of recommendations for improvements it had ever issued for a country undergoing the review process, while the committee member who led the review warned the UK was “going backwards” on independent living.
But since the concluding observations were published six months ago, there has been no sign of a response from the UK government, which has also failed to work with DPOs on how it could improve its record.
Now the coalition of the country’s leading DPOs has written to the prime minister to express its alarm at this lack of action, and to call for a meeting with her.
Among the coalition are the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), Inclusion Scotland, Disability Wales, Inclusion London, Black Triangle, People First (Self Advocacy), British Deaf Association, and Disabled People Against Cuts.
Among key concerns highlighted by the UN committee, which the government has so far failed to act on, says the coalition, is the need to enshrine the UN convention into domestic law as the UK leaves the European Union.
Other concerns include the lack of resources to implement the Equality Act; the need for a “fully resourced action plan” to implement the UN convention across the UK; and work to ensure rights to independent living, employment and an adequate standard of living and social protection.
The coalition has told May that the UK had “previously been seen as a leader on disability rights by many countries around the world and therefore has a ‘special obligation’ to set world leading standards on the treatment of disabled people and their inclusion in society”.
But the coalition also told May that the UN committee concluded that this “leading position has been lost”.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, a ROFA member, said: “Six months on from the UN disability committee’s damning verdict on this government’s failure to protect and progress disabled people’s rights, things continue to get worse, not better, for disabled people.
“The government appears to be maintaining its position of blanket denial that there is anything wrong, dismissing our lived experience, the UN findings and failing to act on any of the recommendations put forward in the committee’s concluding observations.
“This state of affairs cannot continue.
“Disabled people’s organisations from across the UK are calling on the government to recognise the very serious concerns identified by the UN disability committee and to use the concluding observations as an opportunity to begin working with, not against, disabled people, so we can get our rights, inclusion and equality back on track.”
Members of the coalition also contrasted the failure of the UK government to work with disabled people and their organisations with the actions of the devolved Welsh and Scottish governments.
Dr Sally Witcher, chief executive of Inclusion Scotland, said: “It is quite astonishing that the UK government should persist in its claim that it remains a global leader on disabled people’s human rights, despite the UN committee’s damning indictment of their record and incontrovertible evidence of the ‘human catastrophe’ austerity cuts have had on disabled people’s lives.
“While the Scottish government has taken a much more positive approach, the impact of the UK government’s failure to take seriously our human rights is nonetheless starkly felt by disabled people in Scotland, particularly with regard to disability benefits.
“The Scottish government frequently involves disabled people in policy-making and has published a plan for the delivery of our human rights.
“Although we do need to see more progress on implementing that plan, it is heartening that the Scottish government has committed to take action.
“In contrast, the UK government seems determined to keep its head buried firmly in the sand, refusing even to acknowledge what is blatantly obvious – that they have repeatedly trampled on our human rights and thereby devastated the lives of very many disabled people throughout the UK. This cannot be allowed to continue.”
Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales, said the Welsh government had responded to the concluding observations with “continuing dialogue with disabled people and our organisations” through the ongoing review of the Framework for Action on Independent Living.
But she said that “as a devolved nation, it is not possible to entirely mitigate the impact of UK austerity policies, so we join forces with our sister organisations across the UK in calling for urgent action from the prime minister in our quest to safeguard disabled people’s human rights in Wales”.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said the government’s response to the concluding observations would be published later this year, while Number 10 “will be responding to the letter in due course”.
She said in a statement: “The UK is a recognised world leader in disabled rights and equality and as a share of GDP, our public spending on disability and incapacity is higher than all other G7 countries bar Germany*.
“Not only do we spend over £50 billion a year to support disabled people and those with health conditions – more than ever before – but we also offer a wide range of tailored and effective support, which this report fails to recognise.
“Our focus is on helping disabled people find and stay in work, whilst providing support for those who can’t.”
*The other five G7 countries are the USA, Japan, France, Italy and Canada