There has been “continued regression” in disabled people’s rights in the five years since a UN committee told the UK government that its cuts and reforms had caused a “human catastrophe”, according to a new report by disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).
DPOs across England spent six months collecting evidence for the “shadow report” on how the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is being implemented by the UK government.
Of more than 350 people who responded to an online survey, 91 per cent agreed there had been continued regression to disabled people’s rights under the convention since 2017, with just one per cent disagreeing.
The report, which focuses on England, also says that the UK government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic discriminated against disabled people and “violated our equal right to life”.
It warns that disability equality and human rights approaches towards disability have been “further undermined” since 2017, and that the government has been carrying out “insufficient monitoring and promotion” of the convention.
Although it says the UK government has adopted “progressive initiatives” in some areas, it says it has failed to address the “fundamental issues” affecting disabled people’s lives.
The work on the report was led by Inclusion London, which said that many of those who responded to its call for evidence said their experiences during the pandemic had left them feeling that society viewed their lives as “expendable” or as “collateral damage”.
One said: “Being a disabled person feels dangerous on a daily basis. I feel expendable.”
Among the concerns raised, the report says that real terms spending on social care by local authorities was £700 million below its 2010-11 level, and it points to research that found that cuts to social care funding caused nearly 24,000 extra deaths in the five years from 2010.
It concludes that charging for social care is having “an increasingly detrimental impact” on the incomes of disabled people, “forcing some to go without support while others are trapped in debt”.
And, it says, the government has missed successive targets for de-institutionalisation, while increasing numbers of patients with learning difficulties are being physically restrained in mental health units, “despite ministers telling NHS trusts to use such techniques less often”.
Of those surveyed, 84 per cent agreed that institutionalisation of disabled people had been a growing problem since 2017, with just five per cent disagreeing,
The report also raises significant concerns about the rise in foodbank use and homelessness among disabled people, the impact of the pandemic on disability poverty, continuing concerns about the disability benefit assessment system, and the continuing refusal of the Department for Work and Pensions to order an inquiry into deaths linked to its failings.
It also points to “severe and deliberate” regression in disabled people’s right to inclusive education.
The report devotes significant space to the “disproportionate” impact on disabled people of the government’s failure to prepare adequately for the pandemic.
It highlights how disabled people were much more likely to die from COVID-19, even after taking into account factors such as age, underlying health conditions, poverty and whether they lived in a care home.
The report says: “The pandemic starkly highlighted attitudes towards [disabled people] whereby our lives are held to have less value than other people’s.
“Almost no attention has been paid to the discrimination that appears to have led to disabled people dying in disproportionate numbers from COVID-19.”
The findings will be submitted to the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, along with parallel reports by DPOs in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (see separate story), and a UK-wide report.
The UN committee will use the shadow reports – and other evidence – to help it draw up a list of questions to put to the UK government, and the three devolved governments, which will have a year to respond in writing, before being examined by the committee.
Svetlana Kotova, director of campaigns and justice at Inclusion London, said: “There has been a marked absence of public and political debate concerning the disproportionate deaths of Deaf and disabled people which have been written off as linked to underlying health conditions.
“The pervasive attitude is that our deaths don’t count the same as those of non-disabled people – that the deaths of so-called fit and healthy people are the real tragedy.”
She added: “Our research shows discrimination persists in many areas of our lives and there are no signs that things will change in the future.”
Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, which was on the shadow report’s steering group, said: “The findings of this report highlight just how important it is that the independent inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic fully investigates the impact on Deaf and disabled people.
“We need to know how our needs were factored into key political decisions, including when and how to lockdown, what monitoring went on into the impacts of those decisions and what if any emergency planning was in place pre-pandemic.
“Lessons can only be learned for the future through an inquiry that is based on an accurate understanding of who Deaf and disabled people are and what our needs are.”
Picture: Theresia Degener, chair of the committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, told the UK government’s delegation in 2017 that its cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe”
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