Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and disabled activists have written to the equality and human rights watchdog to express their deep concern over its decision to scrap its disability advisory committee.
In the letter to the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Baroness Falkner, they raise concerns about the watchdog’s ability to continue protecting the human rights of disabled people.
They say the committee is “needed now more than ever”, at a time when the violations of disabled people’s human rights “have continued and increased” since a UN committee found “grave and systematic violations” of those rights in 2016, and after a pandemic response which “deliberately discriminated against Deaf and Disabled people and where we died disproportionately”.
The letter says that that Deaf and disabled people are now facing “a very real existential threat”, which EHRC “doesn’t even seem aware of, let alone concerned to address”.
The letter came after Disability News Service (DNS) revealed earlier this month that EHRC had decided to scrap its disability advisory committee without any attempt to consult disabled people and DPOs.
Following that story, the commission released a statement – although it did not share it with DNS – which praised the committee’s “invaluable” influence and “dedicated input”.
But the statement made no reference to why the decision to end the committee was kept so quiet, and why the commission had failed to discuss the move with DPOs and disabled people outside the committee.
Marcial Boo, EHRC’s chief executive, said in the statement that a half-day workshop in July would “seek expert views from disabled people’s organisations, academics and others on our new strategic priorities” and would consider “the best way to engage a range of stakeholders on disability issues on an ongoing basis”.
Rachel Perkins, the committee’s chair, who had previously declined to comment on the commission’s decision, said its members were now “pulling together our learning, achievements and thoughts for the future, to share publicly” and were looking forward “to detailed discussions with the commission on how they plan to engage disabled people effectively”.
She said: “There is encouraging early thinking on a panel and wider network and we want to advise on shaping firm and effective plans for the future.”
But the letter – so far signed by 20 DPOs, including Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, Disabled People Against Cuts, Inclusion London, West of England Centre for Independent Living, Shaping Our Lives, and Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, as well as several leading disabled activists – says the EHRC statement failed to address its concerns.
It says the statement said nothing about the original intentions behind having a disability advisory committee and whether that role was now no longer needed.
And it suggests that the statement “places insufficient weight” on the expertise provided by DPOs as opposed to organisations not run and controlled by disabled people.
The letter also expressed solidarity with disabled people in the trans community who feel “let down and betrayed” by the commission over issues such as conversion therapy, gender recognition processes and EHRC meetings with “gender critical” activists.
An EHRC spokesperson said: “We can confirm we’ve received this letter and will respond in due course.”
The spokesperson had said earlier in a statement, without mentioning the letter: “Protecting and advancing the rights of disabled people has been, and continues to be, a key element of our work.
“We have a strong track record of action to protect and promote the rights of disabled people.
“We’re proud of the work we do to prevent and challenge all discrimination and to promote the rights of everyone in Britain.
“We are impartial and act without fear or favour.”
The disability advisory committee has been scrapped at a time when the UN is preparing for a public examination of the UK government’s progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (see separate stories).
At their meeting last July, members of the committee made it clear that there had been “significant regression” in disabled people’s rights under the UN convention.
Picture: Rachel Perkins (left) and Baroness Falkner
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