A UN committee has told the UK government to produce an annual progress report on how it is implementing the recommendations of a damning inquiry that found it guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of key parts of the disability convention.
The committee of disabled human rights experts concluded last November that the government had violated the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) under the articles on independent living, work and employment, and social protection.
But the committee on the rights of persons with disabilities has now made clear that it is not satisfied with the way the UK has responded to that inquiry.
In its “concluding observations” on the progress the UK has made across the entire convention, the committee said the government should co-operate closely with disabled people’s organisations on implementing the recommendations made by last November’s inquiry report.
And it said the government should provide information to the committee on its progress every 12 months until 2023, when the UK will be examined again on how it has implemented the convention as a whole.
At the end of last month’s two-day public examination of the UK’s progress on implementing the convention (pictured), the committee’s chair, Theresia Degener, told the government’s delegation that its cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe”.
And Stig Langvad, the committee member who led the UK examination, said he and his colleagues were “deeply concerned” about the government’s refusal to recognise the findings and recommendations of the committee’s earlier inquiry, and added: “We expect the state party to take the appropriate measures to address the recommendations of our inquiry report.”
The concluding observations made sweeping criticisms of the UK government’s failure to implement its treaty obligations across the areas examined by last November’s report.
The committee said it was concerned about the impact of government austerity measures, which had had “severe negative economic constraints” on disabled people.
It pointed to the negative impact of the introduction of personal independence payment (PIP) on disabled people’s standard of living, and called for a review of the “detrimental impact” of the conditionality and sanctions regime associated with the out-of-work disability benefit, employment and support allowance (ESA).
It said the government should carry out a cumulative impact assessment, to assess the overall impact of all the cuts and reforms to social security, and then work with disabled people’s organisations to tackle the fall in disabled people’s standard of living.
It also called on the government to reverse both the cut of nearly £30 a week in payments to new claimants of ESA placed in the work-related activity group, and new government regulations that will make it far harder for people with experience of severe mental distress to secure mobility support through PIP.
And it raised concerns about the failure to recognise disabled people’s right to live independently, cuts to spending on independent living, a lack of support services, the closure of the Independent Living Fund, and the “fact that many persons with disabilities are still institutionalised and deprived of the right to live independently and being included within the community”.
And on employment, the committee said it was concerned about the “persistent employment gap and pay gap” faced by disabled people, the “insufficient” measures taken to prevent discrimination in the workplace, and the controversial work capability assessment, which is used to test eligibility for ESA.
Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) – which played a key role in securing the inquiry which led to last November’s report – welcomed the committee’s call for an annual progress report and “the fact that they pushed back, in spite of the government’s complete dismissal of the inquiry report.
“Disabled people are very relieved that the committee stuck to their guns and said this is a very serious question, we are not going to let you get away with dismissing it and we want you to report back again every year.”
John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, welcomed the committee’s call for an annual report on the UK government’s response to last November’s inquiry report, which he said would “assist us to keep the rights violations under the spotlight”.
He said: “It shows the ongoing sincere concern of the CRPD for what is happening to us in the UK.
“It is very heartening but we do not expect the Tory government to do anything other than regurgitate the propaganda that was put before the committee.”
Sarah Rennie, from the disabled women’s collective Sisters of Frida, welcomed the call for an annual update, but warned that government reports were “always vague and lack objective evaluation and hard data”.
She said: “We continue to call on the UK government to collect and analyse disaggregated data to strengthen its understanding of the multiple discrimination faced by disabled women from medical care and employment through to domestic violence.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “These concluding observations are the latest part of a standard review process that all member states that ratify the convention go through.
“We are considering the full report in the context of cross-government work on disability issues, and will provide further information to ministers in DWP in due course.”
She added: “We’re disappointed that this report fails to recognise all the progress we’ve made to empower disabled people in all aspects of their lives, and our ongoing commitment to furthering the rights of disabled people.
“Almost 600,000 disabled people have moved into work over the last four years and we spend over £50 billion a year to support disabled people and those with health conditions – more than ever before, and the second highest in the G7*.
“The UK is a recognised world leader in disability rights and equality, which is why we supported the development of the UN convention.
“The UK has some of the strongest equalities legislation in the world, including the Equality Act 2010, and we will continue to make sure that these rights are protected.
“This government believes that a disability or health condition should not dictate the path a person is able to take in life – or in the workplace.
“This forms the foundation of our reforms to help disabled people realise their potential in the labour market and wider society.”
*The other G7 countries are the USA, Japan, France, Germany, Italy and Canada