A team of United Nations investigators has this week begun a two-week visit to the UK as part of an inquiry into allegations of “systematic and grave” violations of disabled people’s human rights.
Disability News Service (DNS) revealed in August 2014 that the UK appeared to have become the first country to face a high-level inquiry by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD).
The committee said last summer, when approached by DNS, that it was not allowed to say whether the inquiry was underway, and that level of secrecy has continued with this month’s visit, with those giving evidence asked to sign confidentiality agreements.
But some details of how the inquiry into breaches of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is proceeding have emerged.
DNS understands that a team of about six UN staff has arrived in the UK, including two disabled CRPD members, and will visit London, Bristol and Manchester, as well as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
They are due to meet parliamentarians, disabled people’s organisations, civil servants, representatives of local authorities, academics and senior figures from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
They will also hear direct evidence from scores of individuals about the impact of government austerity measures, including former users of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), whistleblowers and disabled activists.
Among the issues being raised are believed to be the government’s decision to close ILF; cuts to legal aid; benefit cuts and sanctions, including the impact of the discredited work capability assessment; the severe shortage of accessible, affordable housing; the impact of the bedroom tax on disabled people; cuts to social care; and the rise in disability hate crime.
Anne Pridmore, a disabled activist and former ILF-user who did not sign a confidentiality agreement but was due to give evidence about the impact of the ILF closure, said: “I am going to say that I am pissed off with being messed around. It is affecting my mental health.”
Nearly four months after the ILF closure, she still does not know if she will be able to stay in her own home, and cannot tell the six personal assistants who work for her whether they will soon be out of a job.
She said: “It is all because of this dreadful government who have stopped the ILF and put nothing in its place. Social care is in a terrible mess.”
Pridmore praised the role played by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which triggered the inquiry after becoming increasingly concerned by the disproportionate impact of the coalition’s cuts on disabled people.
She said she hoped the inquiry “embarrasses the government”, and added: “Hopefully it will give people confidence that something is being done to support them.”
Another disabled activist said: “I’m really happy that someone is listening, yet absolutely horrified by my own and so many other people’s situations and health conditions worsening and the lives being devastated as a result of the closure of the ILF and all the other cuts being made as a result of the ‘welfare reforms’ and the lie of ‘austerity’.
“Some of the stories I’ve been hearing are absolutely shocking and utterly heart-breaking.
“Knowing the UN are investigating is making me feel hopeful, despite everything.
“I really hope the UN will not just gather enough evidence to prove this government is guilty of human rights abuses but that it will then be able and willing to act decisively in order to help bring an end to this cruelty and abuse.”
She also praised DPAC, as well as Inclusion London, which has been closely involved in organising parts of the two-week visit.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “We strongly reject the allegations made by DPAC.
“The UK has a proud record of furthering the rights of disabled people, with the principles of the UN convention at the heart of its approach. We continue to spend around £50 billion a year on disabled people and their services.”
The inquiry has taken place under the convention’s optional protocol, which allows individuals and groups who are victims of a violation to submit a complaint to the CRPD about any state, like the UK, that has signed up to both the convention and the protocol.
The deadline for evidence submissions to CRPD is believed to be 31 October.