EHRC warns government over spending cuts


The equality watchdog has warned the government not to breach its international human rights obligations to disabled people when deciding how to cut public spending.

Mike Smith, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) disability committee, and an EHRC commissioner, spoke out on the first anniversary of Britain’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Smith said the EHRC was “heartened” that the new coalition government had “pledged to tackle the stigma and prejudice that still persists towards disabled people, to reform our social care system and to promote employment opportunities”.

But he said the government and public bodies should have “regard to their obligations” under the UN convention “when making the difficult spending decisions ahead”.

He said: “Many disabled people rely on public services to achieve the most basic levels of human dignity and participate equally in society.

“For many, these services are an essential lifeline without which they would be unable to contribute to their families or community.”

His comments came as the Treasury warned that the government’s spending review – which will set spending limits for every government department until 2014-15 – would “comprehensively examine” spending on benefits.

The Treasury said “tough decisions” would need to be made in order to reduce the “unprecedented” public sector deficit, while the government was “committed to achieving the bulk of this” through cuts in spending rather than rises in taxes.

But it promised that the spending review, due to finish this autumn, would “make supporting those most in need a priority”.

The Treasury’s spending review framework states that the more that can be saved from reforming the welfare system and restraining public sector pay and pensions “the more the Government will be able to do to protect jobs and spending on frontline public services”.

Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said: “Consistent announcements that suggest potential belt-tightening for pensions and benefits are worrying.”

He said DA would be examining more detailed government proposals closely when they were announced.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat care services minister Paul Burstow promised this week that more than £1.4 billion in Department of Health (DH) adult social care grants to local councils would go ahead as planned in 2010-11.

But three days later, Eric Pickles, the Conservative communities secretary, announced that the government was removing “ring fences” from a number of disability-related annual grants. This means councils will no longer have to spend the grants in those areas.

Social care grants where the ring-fence has been removed include a £30 million DH grant to help councils introduce a personalised adult social care system, a £51 million DH grant to support the resettlement of people with learning difficulties from the old long-stay hospitals, and grants to support people with HIV and AIDS and people who have had strokes.

With Pickles also announcing details of how councils would need to make savings of £1.166 billion this year, there are fears that the removal of ring-fencing could put services in these areas at risk.

9 June 2010

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