The human rights watchdog has struggled to explain why its major report on Britain’s “equality and human rights landscape” has ignored key breaches of disabled people’s rights by the UK government.
The Equality and Human Rights Monitor report*, published today (Thursday), is supposed to assess the status of equality and human rights across Britain since 2018.
But analysis of the report by Disability News Service (DNS) has again raised questions about the commission’s ability and willingness to hold the government to account over its repeated breaches of disabled people’s rights.
Among the concerns about the report is its failure to mention two legal interventions it has made in the last two years, both of which were supposedly aimed at forcing the government to act over major breaches of disability rights.
DNS has highlighted the report’s failure across at least five key areas – housing, disability benefits, social care, inappropriate detention in mental health settings, and education – although there are likely to be more.
Although there is a small section on the inappropriate detention of people with learning difficulties and autistic people in inpatient mental health settings, there is no mention of the legal warning EHRC issued the government last year about its lack of progress in this area (see separate story).
On disability benefits, the report makes a couple of low-key references to concerns, mentioning the work capability assessment (WCA) and, in reference to statistics showing the worsening mental health of disabled people, stating: “Some of these trends may be linked to changes in benefits paid to disabled people.
“Analysis has found changes to the work capability assessment corresponded with increased mental health problems.”
This refers to research published in 2016, without explaining that it actually linked the WCA with 600 suicides between 2010 and 2013.
There is also no mention in the EHRC report of a series of deaths linked to the actions and failings of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) since 2018, including those of Philippa Day, Errol Graham, Roy Curtis, James Oliver, Philip Pakree, Ker Featherstone, Sophia Yuferev, Stephen Smith and Christian Wilcox.
And there is no mention of EHRC’s own attempts since April 2022 to persuade DWP to sign a section 23 legal agreement that would force the department to improve its treatment of disabled benefit claimants.
On education, the EHRC report appears to welcome funding that allowed the opening of a string of new special schools, with provision for up to 3,000 disabled pupils, without pointing out that the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities has criticised the UK government for the “persistence of a dual education system” that segregates increasing numbers of disabled children in special schools.
The report also fails to point out that article 24 of the UN disability convention requires the development of a fully inclusive education system.
On social care, there is a brief, uncritical paragraph that fails to mention the social care crisis other than saying that the sector “has long been under pressure”.
The report fails to mention that tens of thousands of disabled people face debt collection action every year over unpaid care charges.
And it also fails to mention that, two years ago, the commission itself warned the government that social care was at “crisis point” and called on ministers to introduce a legal right to independent living.
In the housing section, the EHRC report appears to praise the UK government for its commitment in July 2022 to “raising mandatory accessibility standards for all new homes in England”, while failing to point out that the promised consultation on the changes has still not been launched 16 months on.
The government originally suggested these changes nearly three years ago.
In its press release, the commission focuses on the impact of home working on disabled people, rates of domestic abuse, access to justice and workplace discrimination.
It also mentions the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people, which it claims has narrowed, despite analysis by researchers suggesting such figures are essentially “meaningless” because disability equality for disabled people has remained almost static when it comes to finding and keeping jobs.
Baroness Falkner (pictured), the commission’s chair, said in the press release: “Our Equality and Human Rights Monitor represents the most extensive review of Britain’s progress towards greater equality and respect for human rights.
“By addressing disparities that affect specific groups, we can collectively improve services and work towards a fairer society.”
Of seven recommendations made by the report in its disability section, three relate to disability employment, one to disability poverty, one to the increase in disabled people’s mental ill-health, another aims to address the risk of experiencing crime, and one calls for action on the impact of digital exclusion.
Asked how it justified producing a report that omitted so many key concerns about disabled people’s rights, and ignored recent deaths of disabled people linked to DWP’s actions, an EHRC spokesperson said: “The Equality and Human Rights Monitor offers a comprehensive overview of the equality and human rights landscape in Britain over the last five years.
“The report is data led, offering a bespoke analysis of a range of data from different surveys and sources, including a widely advertised call for evidence and extensive consultation with disability-led organisations.
“Additionally, as the report includes a broad range of evidence and issues, across all protected characteristics, not all issues can be examined in full depth, and we have not included a comprehensive account of all our enforcement actions taken.
“Our methodology is detailed on our website.
“Our independence is guaranteed in statute, and we reject any claim that our report has been weakened to protect the government or any other body.
“It is not the role of the EHRC to make policy recommendations on behalf of government, public bodies or others.
“The purpose of the report is to provide these groups with the data and tools they need to improve public services to benefit all.”
*Separate reports focus on Scotland and Wales
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