The minister for disabled people has been unable to explain why she failed to make any public statement to support disabled people’s battle for rights on the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD).
It is the second year in a row that Sarah Newton has apparently demonstrated a lack of interest in domestic and international efforts to further their rights.
Last year, Newton failed to organise or attend any IDPD events on the day, which is celebrated around the world, or send any messages of support through her Twitter or Facebook accounts.
This year, her Twitter page was again silent, other than retweeting a couple of messages sent by her Office for Disability Issues about an event she had attended, while her Facebook page failed to make any mention of the day.
Her silence on the UN’s international day of disabled people contrasted with her support for Carers Rights Day, which had taken place three days earlier, with Newton telling her followers on 30 November that she wanted to “say a huge thank you to carers across the country for the great work they do each and every day supporting the most vulnerable in society”.
Newton’s parliamentary office declined to comment and referred Disability News Service (DNS) to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
A DWP spokeswoman said: “It’s frankly ludicrous to cast aspersions about someone’s allegiance to a day based on whether they have posted online or on social media.
“The minister’s commitment to empowering and supporting disabled people is unwavering, and she attended events to mark International Day for Disabled Persons and announced the recruitment of six new sector champions.”
She declined to say if Newton would apologise.
The press release about the appointment of the new disability sector champions, which was issued on Monday, did include a quote from Newton, but her comment failed to mention the UN international day.
Newton’s failure to support the UN day contrasted with Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, who released a video “to celebrate the contributions disabled people make everyday” and their struggle for rights, and to call for an end to the “hostile environment” they faced because of government policies.
She also hosted a meeting, organised by the TUC disabled workers’ committee, Unite the union and Disabled People Against Cuts (see separate story), which called for the government’s universal credit benefit system to be scrapped, although de Cordova herself did not call for it to be scrapped because Labour’s position is still to “pause and fix” the system.
De Cordova told DNS: “The UN international day of disabled people is crucial to promoting the rights of disabled people in Britain and across the globe.
“This government has shown a shocking disregard for the day itself, and the importance of what it represents.
“Given that Conservative policies were labelled as responsible for ‘grave’ and ‘systematic’ rights violations by the UN, this is sadly unsurprising.”
Newton’s government has been repeatedly and severely criticised by the United Nations for severe breaches of its human rights obligations.
Only last month, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said the government had inflicted “great misery” on disabled people and other marginalised groups, with ministers in a state of “denial” about the impact of their policies.
And last year, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities delivered a damning verdict on the government’s progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with its chair saying that cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe” in the UK.
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…