The UK government has been accused of showing contempt for disabled people after it refused to give evidence on its progress since being found guilty of “grave and systematic” violations of the UN’s disability convention seven years ago.
The government has told the UN committee that monitors implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that it does not want to be examined in public on its progress later this month.
A UN committee of disabled human rights experts found in November 2016 that the UK government had discriminated against disabled people on the right to an adequate standard of living and social protection, work and employment, and independent living.
Most of those breaches were caused by policies introduced by Conservative ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
The 2016 findings were the result of the first high-level inquiry ever carried out by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD), which followed years of research and lobbying by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).
The committee has put aside a day in August to examine the government’s progress in implementing the recommendations over the last seven years.
But the UK government has now backed out of attending the session in Geneva on 28 August and says it will not give its evidence until next March.
Representatives of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) – and four UK human rights and equality bodies – will still attend the session in Geneva later this month to give their evidence, but they will now also have to fund a second trip in March 2024.
DPOs will present a “shadow” report on the government’s progress since the 2016 report, with a coalition of organisations currently putting the finishing touches to their report.
CRPD confirmed this week that the “interaction between the State party and the Committee” had been postponed, but it declined to comment on the UK government’s decision.
Ellen Clifford, a disabled activist who has been working on the DPO shadow report for the coalition, said: “It is not surprising that the government has chosen not to participate in the special inquiry follow-up this year given that their treatment of Deaf and disabled people is publicly indefensible.
“They are consciously breaching and ignoring substantive obligations under the convention and there is clear evidence of further retrogression.”
She said she believed the government was “scared of the bad publicity at a time when they are in a weakened position with continuing industrial disputes and unhappiness due to the cost-of-living crisis and had hoped to avoid further critical scrutiny and bad press through attempting to postpone the session”.
She said the decision showed contempt for the efforts that disabled people and their organisations have put into preparing for the evidence session.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “The evidence is stark and clear – there continues to be significant retrogression of disabled people’s rights since the 2016 special inquiry, which investigated the impact of welfare reform on our rights to independent living, employment and decent social security and income.
“Having gathered hundreds of pages of evidence over the last 18 months, DDPOs*, including Inclusion London, are united in the view that the UK government has not implemented the UN committee’s recommendations to protect our rights.
“Far from it – they have made the situation even worse for disabled people than it was in 2016.
“We will be sharing our evidence and our experiences with the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities later this month.
“We are shocked, dismayed but not surprised that the government has bailed out and will not be attending.
“If we can gather, collate and provide evidence then why can’t the UK government?”
Mark Harrison, a member of the steering group of Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, said the government was “sticking two fingers up to the UN and to DPOs in the UK”.
He said: “When the UN said there was evidence of grave and systematic violations, the British government rubbished the UN.
“The contempt they showed to the UN in 2016, this is just a continuation of that, and it just shows that not only do they hold disabled people in contempt, they hold the UN in contempt.
“At best, they want to avoid scrutiny and the bad publicity, and at worst they’re hoping that they can kick it into the long grass beyond the next general election.”
Dorothy Gould, founder of the user-led, rights-based organisation Liberation, said the government’s last-minute request “shows a stark disregard for disabled people”.
She said that many DPOs, including Liberation, had “put hours of work into preparing submissions for the committee, which will now have to be re-done next year.
“No attention has been paid either to the expense for us of now booking flights to Geneva and accommodation in Geneva for a second time.”
Martha Foulds, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “The UK government’s failure to provide an update to the committee is the latest demonstration of their contempt for Deaf and disabled people.
“The government should put its effort into implementing the committee’s recommendations rather than its current commitment to cuts, hostility to claimants and culture wars.”
John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said the government was “treating the committee with contempt”.
He said: “It makes it crystal clear that the government has stepped backwards from fulfilling its obligations under the convention.”
The government’s Disability Unit, which is based within the Cabinet Office, refused to acknowledge questions about the decision for more than two days. It had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday), more than three days after it was first approached.
*Deaf and disabled people’s organisations
Picture: (From left to right) Tracey Lazard, Ellen Clifford and Mark Harrison
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