Government’s UN response ‘exposes failings on disability convention’

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The government has ignored key evidence that demonstrates widespread breaches of the UN disability convention, according to disabled people’s grassroots groups and organisations that are working together to expose its failings.

They spoke out after the government submitted its response to concerns raised earlier this year by a UN committee, which described where it had questions about whether the UK may have failed in its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The UK government’s 168-paragraph response to the “list of issues” produced by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) is the latest step in a process that will see it examined in public in Geneva next month on how it has implemented the convention.

But disabled activists and campaigners who have been working to highlight the UK’s breaches of the convention said this week that the government’s defence of its position was “poor quality” and lacking in evidence.

Ellen Clifford, a spokeswoman for the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) – a national anti-cuts network of user-led organisations – said the government had claimed in its response that its policies were having a positive impact on disabled people, without providing any evidence for those claims.

She said the government had claimed that the Care Act 2014 was “helping to overturn traditional approaches to disability in health and social care by placing greater power in the hands of service users, including disabled people”, when there was substantial evidence to show that the act was not being implemented.

There is no mention in the government’s response of the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) own evaluation of the closure of the Independent Living Fund, in which it had found that some former recipients had experienced a loss of support, a greater reliance on unpaid care and a negative impact on their physical and mental health after it closed.

Only last week, Disability News Service reported how leading figures in the disability movement had described how the concept of disabled people using personal assistants had been severely damaged by years of austerity and government policies that have “degraded” the support mechanisms designed to enable independent living.

Clifford pointed also to the second paragraph of the response, where the government claimed that it “embraces the social model of disability”.

She said there was substantial evidence to show the government was instead influenced by the discredited biopsychosocial model of disability in its welfare reforms, by the psychiatric model in mental health services, and by the medical model in the use of assessment and treatment units for people with learning difficulties, all of which had caused harm to disabled people and led to breaches of the convention.

Clifford said the government’s response overall was “just a list of policies” and “doesn’t deal with any of the substantive issues” raised by the UN in its list of issues.

She said: “It just doesn’t present a picture of the experiences of Deaf and disabled people in the UK in 2017.”

Dr Rosalind Tyler-Greig, human rights policy and engagement officer for Inclusion Scotland, said the government’s response “once again demonstrates its refusal to engage with many of the most important issues affecting the lives of disabled people”.

She pointed to “telling” omissions, including the government stating that it spent nearly £17 billion on personal independence payment (PIP) and disability living allowance (DLA) in 2015-16, compared to £11 billion in 2006-07, but ignoring new figures – reported last week by Disability News Service – that showed more than half of those previously eligible for the higher mobility rate of DLA had lost that eligibility after being reassessed for PIP.

And where the government states that legal aid “continues to provide access to justice for people in the most serious cases”, Tyler-Greig said that many disabled people with housing, employment or social security concerns “now find themselves priced out of justice” because of the UK government’s legal aid reforms.

She added: “The government claims to have embraced the social model of disability. 

“However, this statement is merely a case of lip service and there is little evidence to support it.”

In Scotland, she said, there had been progress in dealing with the impact of austerity, with the Scottish government promising “a different and non-discriminatory approach to social security”.

But she said the delivery of social care “remains a significant concern in Scotland, and there is little in the state response to address this.

“Inclusion Scotland is working with a range of partners to ensure that this UN process provides the appropriate levers to drive progress for disabled people in Scotland as well as in the UK.”

There is also anger about the government’s continued failure – repeated in its response to the list of issues – to address the recommendations made by the UN committee following a separate inquiry into breaches of the convention.

That inquiry – taken under article six of the convention’s optional protocol – found last year that the UK government was guilty of “grave” and “systematic” breaches of three specific articles of the human rights treaty.

Most of those breaches – under articles 19 (independent living), article 27 (work and employment) and article 28 (adequate standard of living and social protection) of the convention – were caused by policies introduced by Conservative DWP ministers between 2010 and 2015.

The government said last November that the inquiry report presented an “inaccurate” picture of life for disabled people in the UK, and dismissed all 11 of its recommendations.

And in this month’s response to the list of issues, it says only that it “maintains the position of its response” to the article six inquiry and planned to “further showcase [its]commitment to progressing the rights and lived experience of disabled people” through the examination of its overall record on implementing the convention.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which played a key part in persuading the UN to carry out the article six investigation, is to meet with the UN committee next month in Geneva to discuss progress in following up the results of the inquiry, which is a separate but parallel process to the routine examination.

DPAC has already told the committee that it believes “rights are regressing even further” since the publication of the inquiry report, including through further cuts to social care, concerns about DWP’s new health and work conversation, and the “utter disaster of universal credit”.

Linda Burnip, a DPAC co-founder, said: “The message is very much that this isn’t over yet, and I will be speaking about the UN inquiry in the European parliament in September to MEPs and hammering home how shamefully the Tories have behaved.”

ROFA and other organisations that visited Geneva in March to give evidence to the committee about the UK’s breaches of the convention – including Inclusion Scotland, Disability Wales and Disability Rights UK – are now working on a joint response to the government’s response, and have until the end of this month to submit it to the committee.

Picture by Natasha Hirst: Representatives of ROFA and DPOs including Disability Wales and Inclusion Scotland in Geneva in March