The minister for disabled people has again misled MPs, after she claimed that the UK had “volunteered” to take part in a public UN examination which concluded that her government’s disability policies had caused a “human catastrophe”.
Penny Mordaunt was responding to Labour’s new shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, who told the Commons this week that the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities had “condemned” the government’s progress on disability employment.
De Cordova had asked Mordaunt if the government would respond to those concerns.
The committee’s “concluding observations” report, in August, examined how the UK had implemented the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
Among more than 80 recommendations for improvements – a record number for any country being examined by the committee – it was heavily critical of the UK government’s failure to take action to close the disability pay gap and the disability employment gap, as well as raising concerns about serious flaws in the work capability assessment process.
But Mordaunt told MPs on Monday (pictured) that the Office for Disability Issues was looking at the UN report and that the UK government had “volunteered to put ourselves through this process”.
The process that led to the report is not voluntary, as is made clear in articles 35 and 36 of the convention.
Countries that ratify the UN convention, like the UK, have to send an initial report to the committee and then provide “periodic” progress reports every four years, which eventually lead – following various stages that include a public examination – to a concluding observations report.
It is not the first time that Mordaunt has been accused of misleading MPs.
Last November, she misled the Commons work and pensions committee about the government’s pledge to halve the disability employment gap, less than two minutes after she began giving evidence to MPs.
And last October, she told the Commons that under personal independence payment, compared with disability living allowance, “more people are entitled to use the Motability scheme”.
Motability’s own figures showed that of their customers who had been reassessed for PIP at that stage, 44 per cent had lost their entitlement to the scheme and had had to return their vehicles.
She has also faced questions after telling a disability hustings event in May that a Conservative government would “dismantle” the work capability assessment (WCA), and that this pledge had been included in the party’s general election manifesto.
The WCA pledge was not in the Tory manifesto.
When asked why Mordaunt appears to have misled MPs and whether she would apologise for doing so, a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman claimed she had been referring to a report published last November under UNCRPD’s optional protocol procedures.
He said: “We are one of the few nations that have ratified the CRPD’s optional protocol, which allows the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to undertake an inquiry.”
This report found Mordaunt’s government guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of the convention’s articles on independent living, work and employment, and social protection, through policies introduced by Conservative DWP ministers between 2010 and 2015.
It was the first such high-level inquiry to be carried out by the committee, and was a result of years of research and lobbying by Disabled People Against Cuts and other disabled activists.
But again, the UK government’s involvement in the optional protocol was not voluntary.
The UK is also not “one of the few nations” to have ratified the optional protocol, as a UN document published last year shows it has been ratified by at least 89 countries and regional organisations.
It was also ratified by the last Labour government, rather than by the Conservatives.
When DNS told the DWP spokesman that de Cordova had clearly been referring to the August report and that even if she had been referring to the optional protocol it would still have been wrong to suggest that the UK “volunteered” to take part, a more senior DWP spokeswoman replied instead, and said: “There’s no evidence that MPs have been misled.
“We’ve nothing further to add to the response below.”