An international committee of disabled human rights experts have delivered a series of withering attacks on the UK government over its failure to implement the UN disability convention.
Following a two-day public examination of the UK’s progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the committee said it was “deeply concerned” that the UK government still believed it was a “champion of human rights”.
The committee’s chair, Theresia Degener (pictured), from Germany, told the UK government’s delegation that its cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe”, which was “totally neglecting the vulnerable situation people with disabilities find themselves in”.
Stig Langvad, the committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) member who is leading the UK examination, said the government had failed to demonstrate its commitment to the convention.
He said the government had failed to answer many questions put to it by the committee over the two days, and that it had “become evident that the committee has a very different perception of how human rights should be understood and implemented” than the UK government.
He called on the UK to develop a “concrete strategy which is sufficiently funded” to “fully acknowledge and implement the convention”.
Langvad said the committee was “deeply concerned” about the government’s refusal to recognise the findings and recommendations of the committee’s earlier inquiry, which concluded last November that there had been “grave and systematic violations” of three key parts of the convention.
He said: “We expect the state party to take the appropriate measures to address the recommendations of our inquiry report.”
Langvad added: “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.”
Coomaravel Pyaneandee, a vice-chair of the committee, had earlier told the UK delegation: “I want to see you coming back as world leader, which at the moment I am afraid you’re not, but disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) from whom I draw inspiration are in fact the world leaders in your country.”
Many representatives of DPOs – including Inclusion London, the Alliance for Inclusive Education, Disabled People Against Cuts, Equal Lives, Black Triangle, Disability Rights UK, Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales – had travelled to Geneva for the public examination, and had provided detailed evidence to Pyaneandee and the committee members on the government’s failings.
Karen Jochelson, the head of the Office for Disability Issues, who led the UK delegation, insisted that the UK was “determined to remain a global lead in disability issues”.
She said that UK laws provided “a strong framework for ensuring and progressing the rights of disabled people” although there was “more still to be done in all aspects of society and life” to progressively realise the convention.
At the start of the two-day examination, Jochelson had delivered a statement from the minister for disabled people, Penny Mordaunt, in which she claimed that the UK had been “a global leader in driving forward disability rights and promoting inclusion” and that it could even be a “catalyst” to “help our international partners achieve more on this agenda”.
A representative of the Department for Work and Pensions told the committee that the government “takes very seriously its duty to protect the most vulnerable people”, and added: “We stand by the reforms to the UK benefit system.”
Jochelson ended by saying that it was “right that the UK is scrutinised carefully and we have welcomed this” and that this reflected Mordaunt’s pledge that the UK would “continue to progress disabled people’s rights and consult with disabled people on government policy and public services”.
Two of the key issues that were raised several times by committee members were disabled people’s right to independent living and the treatment of people in secure mental health settings (see separate stories).
Among other issues address by the committee were the discrimination faced by disabled people when accessing healthcare; the government’s plans to increase the number of disabled people in employment; and the disability pay gap.
It also examined disabled people’s engagement in democracy; the fall in the number of disabled children in mainstream education and the failure to move towards a fully inclusive education system; parents with learning difficulties who have had their children taken away from them; and disabled people who have lost their benefits in the move from disability living allowance to personal independence payment.