The United Nations (UN) committee that found the UK government guilty of violating the UN disability convention has revealed for the first time that its breaches of the human rights treaty were both “grave” and “systematic”.
The decision to clarify the seriousness of the UK’s breaches of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) shows for the first time just how seriously the committee viewed those violations.
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said the UN’s clarification showed that the actions of the Conservative government that led to it being found guilty of breaching the treaty were “obviously based on a deliberate intention to cause harm without any regard to the horrendous consequences for disabled people”.
When the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) published its report last November, it said the UK had committed “grave or systematic” violations of the treaty in three specific areas.
The committee has previously refused to expand on that conclusion, leaving it unclear whether the committee believed the violations were simply grave (serious) but isolated, or just systematic (regular) but not grave or serious.
But the committee has now agreed for the first time to expand on its conclusion, and has revealed to Disability News Service (DNS) that the breaches of the convention by the UK government were both grave and systematic.
A spokeswoman for the committee said: “The committee can confirm that some violations were grave, some others were systematic and some were both: grave and systematic.”
The committee had concluded in the report that the UK government had discriminated against disabled people across three key parts of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
Most of the breaches – which were all 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 ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) 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 DPAC.
DPAC’s work was led by one of its co-founders, Debbie Jolly, who died just a few days after the report vindicating her and DPAC’s efforts was published.
Linda Burnip, a DPAC co-founder, who also played a key role in ensuring the UN inquiry took place, said: “When violations are systematic, or both grave and systematic, then the actions of the Tory government that led to this are obviously based on a deliberate intention to cause harm without any regard to the horrendous consequences for disabled people.”
She pointed to actions such as cuts to social care, the impact of the work capability assessment – which has been linked by public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford to hundreds of suicides between 2010 and 2013 – the hugely damaging introduction of personal independence payment and consequent cuts to support, the increased use of sanctions and the resulting deaths of benefit claimants, and the introduction of the bedroom tax.
Burnip said: “What is particularly damning is that we know the government was aware of the harm their actions were making to disabled people’s lives yet carried on regardless with their unrelenting attacks and scapegoating.
“Even now they refuse to consider a cumulative impact assessment, which might at the very least be a first step towards acknowledging their culpability in the abusive violation of our rights.”
DWP said last November that the UN report presented an “inaccurate” picture of life for disabled people in the UK, and dismissed all 11 of its recommendations.
A DWP spokeswoman said this week: “We have responded to the [committee] in full. As discussed in our response, there are individual facts in the report which are incorrect, and the report fails to place the government’s reforms in context.
“The UK is a recognised world leader in disabled rights and equality and as a share of GDP, our public spending on disability and incapacity is higher than all other G7* countries bar Germany.
“Not only do we spend over £50 billion a year to support disabled people and those with health conditions – more than ever before – but we also offer a wide range of tailored and effective support, which this report fails to recognise.
“Our focus is on helping disabled people find and stay in work, whilst providing support for those who can’t.”
*The other G7 countries are the USA, Japan, France, Germany, Italy and Canada.