The minister for disabled people has refused three times to explain why his government failed to give evidence to the United Nations on its disability rights record, weeks after his party’s disability group expressed concern at the decision.
The Conservative Disability Group (CDG) has been a familiar presence at party conferences for at least 20 years, hosting stalls in the exhibition area and fringe events on matters of interest to disabled party members.
This week, at the conference in Manchester, there was no stall in the exhibition and no CDG fringe event, although Disability News Service (DNS) has been told this was due to financial reasons and the lack of accessible rooms available on the group’s preferred date.
But last month, CDG’s chair, Barry Ginley, wrote to Tom Pursglove, the minister for disabled people, to raise concerns over reports that the government had refused to attend a meeting of the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities in Geneva.
The meeting was being held to examine the government’s progress since being found guilty of grave and systematic violations of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The UN committee 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 committee, which followed years of research and lobbying by Disabled People Against Cuts.
The committee had put aside a day in August to examine the government’s progress in implementing its recommendations over the last seven years.
But the UK government refused to attend the session in Geneva on 28 August and said it would not give its evidence until next March.
Ginley told Pursglove in his letter: “I am concerned that the advice you have received is incorrect and the decision not to attend may show the Government does not respect the rights of disabled people.
“As a group who strive to promote accessibility, we would urge the Government to reassess its decision and attend the review, regardless of any public scrutiny, to highlight the work undertaken by the UK Government.”
Ginley told DNS yesterday (Wednesday) that he had been unable to attend the party conference himself because of family bereavements, and he stressed that CDG’s failure to hold a fringe meeting was “not due to the government’s work on disability or the issue of attendance at the Geneva meeting”.
Asked by DNS about the decision not to attend the Geneva meeting, at a fringe meeting held by the disability charity Scope, Pursglove dismissed Ginley’s concerns.
He claimed the government had a “very ambitious programme of work that responds in a very thorough way to many of the challenges that people have highlighted”.
He then mentioned his draft Disability Action Plan – criticised for its lack of action and dismissed as a “PR exercise” – the National Disability Strategy, which was previously on hold for two years after its legality was challenged through the courts, and a planned review of the much-criticised Disability Confident employment scheme.
He also referenced two pieces of controversial legislation that were introduced through private members’ bills – the British Sign Language (BSL) Act and the Down Syndrome Act – but supported by the government.
DNS reported in August that more than half of government departments had ignored the BSL legislation, which was supposed to boost the use of BSL in their communications.
Pursglove also referenced DWP’s own controversial reforms of the work capability assessment and employment support.
He said: “I think this government’s got a record of being very thoughtful about these issues, and responding to the challenges that people have raised with us in a considered way.
“We of course live up to our UN convention obligations, we will continue to do that, and when it comes to the UN committee, we have agreed entirely properly, and through the usual processes, to appear in March and present our latest position and we will continue to engage in that process in good faith, as you would expect.”
Pursglove repeated some of his points in a reply to Ginley that was added to the CDG website this week.
But when asked by DNS why the government did not attend the meeting in August, he said: “I’m not going to say any more to that which I’ve already said. I’ve set out the position.”
Asked again, he said the government “continues to act in good faith”.
And asked a third time why the government did not attend in August, he declined to say anything further.
Picture: Tom Pursglove (right) after the fringe meeting
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