The government is ignoring a call from disabled human rights experts from the UN to assess the overall impact of cuts and reforms to disabled people’s support, six years after being told to do so in a ground-breaking report.
The UN committee concluded in November 2016 that the UK government was guilty of “grave” and “systematic” violations of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Most of the breaches were caused by policies introduced by Conservative ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) between 2010 and 2015.
One key recommendation made by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities through its inquiry was for the UK government to carry out a “cumulative impact assessment” of how future welfare reforms affect disabled people’s right to support.
But in its latest annual report on how it is responding to the committee’s recommendations, the government has yet again ignored the call for such an assessment.
But in response to that recommendation, the government says it relies instead on the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty, which merely sets a legal duty on public bodies to “consider” the impact of their policies on disabled people.
The 2022 annual report was published quietly this week, and it shows the government is still ignoring key recommendations made by the committee, six years after the UN report was first released.
The government has continued to reject the committee’s first recommendation from 2016, to carry out a cumulative impact assessment of all the cuts and reforms made to disabled people’s support by the 2010 coalition government.
In its response, it refers again to the public sector equality duty.
The report also offers no evidence that it has taken any action to combat the “negative and discriminatory stereotypes and prejudices” faced by disabled people who claim benefits, another of the report’s recommendations.
The committee’s 2016 report found disabled people had been “regularly portrayed negatively as being dependent or making a living out of benefits, committing fraud as benefit claimants, being lazy and putting a burden on taxpayers”.
But although the government’s latest response points to action it has taken around hate crime, bullying in schools, online safety, and “public understanding of autism”, there is no mention of any action it has taken to address attacks on disabled people who claim benefits.
Bob Ellard, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “A new year but the same UK government showing the same contempt for disabled people.
“They won’t follow the UN recommendations and assess the impact of their policies, because they know the answer would reveal the scale of the financial, social and human rights-based oppression of their own disabled citizens.
“And they won’t stop demonising disabled people, as that is what provides the smokescreen that enables them to continue oppressing us.”
The Disability Unit had failed to explain by noon today (Thursday) why the government has refused to take the action recommended by the committee on cumulative impact assessments and the discriminatory portrayal of benefit claimants.
But the minister for disabled people, Tom Pursglove, told MPs in a written statement last month that the government’s response “demonstrates how we are implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and showcases positive action taking place across the UK to support disabled people”.
He said the report showed the government had “implemented numerous policies and programmes to tackle the barriers faced by disabled people relevant to the articles examined by the inquiry”.
The government’s immediate response to the inquiry in 2016 was to reject all 11 of the committee’s recommendations, attempt to undermine the report, and claim that the UK was a “recognised world leader in disabled rights and equality”.
But the UN committee later told the government to complete an annual report on its progress in implementing its recommendations.
The 2016 report was the result of the first high-level inquiry to be carried out by the committee and followed years of research and lobbying by DPAC.
Among the cuts and reforms introduced by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition that led DPAC to approach the UN committee were cuts to social care, the impact of the work capability assessment – linked by public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford to hundreds of suicides between 2010 and 2013 – the introduction of personal independence payment and consequent cuts to support, and the increased use of benefit sanctions and the resulting deaths of claimants.
The following year, during a wider examination of the UK’s progress in implementing the convention, the committee said it was “deeply concerned” that the UK government still believed it was a “champion of human rights”, with its chair warning that its cuts to disabled people’s support had caused a “human catastrophe”.
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