Disabled people’s organisations who travelled to Geneva this week to help highlight the government’s continuing human rights violations have praised a UN committee of disabled experts for publicly exposing the UK’s failings.
Civil servants from eight UK government departments, and the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, were grilled over two days about the UK’s record in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
The two days ended with the chair of the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD), Theresia Degener, telling the UK government that its cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe” (see separate story).
Another CRPD member, Stig Langvad, said members were “deeply concerned” by the government’s failure to implement the convention, and delivered a withering putdown, telling the UK delegation: “I could provide a long list of examples where the state party doesn’t live up to the convention. Unfortunately, the time is too limited.”
Among the DPOs that travelled to Geneva were representatives of Inclusion London, the Alliance for Inclusive Education, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Equal Lives, Black Triangle, Disability Rights UK, Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales.
Tracey Lazard (pictured, right, at the UN), chief executive of Inclusion London, said “We are all exhausted but delighted with how the week has gone.
“We felt that the CRPD committee listened to the evidence presented by the unprecedented number of DDPO [Deaf and disabled people’s organisation] representatives who attended the sessions and while it is a shame that the government continues to deny the existence of serious rights regressions and the brutal impact of their policies, it was inspiring to be part of the collective effort by Deaf and disabled people across the UK to ensure our voices are heard.”
Ellen Clifford, from DPAC, added: “The UK government representatives were shameless in their obfuscation and misrepresentations of information in response to questions by the disability committee members but the weakness of their answers also showed how fragile their position is in continuing to try to deny the brutal and devastating impacts of their policies.
“What Deaf and disabled people have achieved in Geneva this week shows how formidable we can be when we come together and we now need to take that back to the UK to continue fighting for our rights.”
Sally Witcher, from Inclusion Scotland, said: “We wholeheartedly welcome the committee’s comments on the UK.
“The government has not been allowed to get away with evasive responses which disregard the lived experiences of Deaf and disabled people throughout the UK.”
Rhian Davies, from Disability Wales, said: “This has been a historical week for the disabled people’s movement and one that we are proud to have played our part in.”
Members of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) questioned civil servants from the Office for Disability Issues, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Health, the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Transport, the Department for Education, the Home Office and the Foreign Office, as well as civil servants from the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Key issues raised repeatedly by the committee over the two days included the impact of cuts to disabled people’s support to live independently; the discriminatory treatment of people in secure mental health settings; and the failure of the government to engage with disabled people and their organisations.
The committee also asked about discrimination in the housing market; the “disproportionate” levels of violence and abuse experienced by disabled women, and the support available to them; the “high levels of poverty” experienced by disabled people; the availability of accessible information; and the shortage of British Sign Language interpreters.
Other issues raised included the institutionalisation of children with mental health conditions; the economic impact of Brexit on disabled people; the impact of cuts and reforms to legal aid and the introduction of employment tribunal fees on disabled people’s access to justice; and the levels of bullying experienced by disabled children.
Picture by Natasha Hirst