The UK government has made no progress in improving the way its social security system protects the rights of disabled people and other groups, according to a new assessment by the equality and human rights watchdog.
In its assessment of progress across 11 human rights areas, including the benefits system, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) concludes that several permanent welfare reforms introduced by the UK government have “adversely affected the enjoyment of human rights, in particular for women, disabled people, ethnic minority people and lone parents”.
And it highlights how the process of assessing entitlement to disability benefits has been found to disadvantage disabled people.
EHRC points out in its Human Rights Tracker how the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities concluded in 2016 that the Welfare Reform and Work Act had contributed to “grave and systemic violations of disability rights”.
EHRC also highlights concerns that methods used in the disability benefits assessment system have led to “the deaths of a number of benefit claimants”, pointing to the conclusions of the coroner who heard the inquest into the death of Philippa Day, who warned (PDF) in February that further such deaths could occur if the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its contractor Capita failed to act.
Although EHRC points to “temporary positive measures” taken during the pandemic, including the £20-a-week uplift to universal credit, it says there was no corresponding increase for people on so-called legacy benefits, such as employment and support allowance, most of whom were disabled.
Researcher Dr Miro Griffiths, a member of EHRC’s disability advisory committee, but speaking in a personal capacity, said: “The lack of progress on social security by the UK government is unsurprising and continues to give a stark warning that injustices encountered by disabled people will be sustained.
“The government needs to rethink its proposed commitment to improving disabled people’s lives, given that the latest disability strategy has been criticised – justifiably – by disabled people’s organisations across the country.
“There exist guidelines, proposals, and examples of good practice, which would improve disabled people’s access to social security and broader support mechanisms.”
And, he said, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, disabled people’s organisations and their coalitions, and academic research, “all provide suggestions to progress disabled people’s rights, protections, and fundamental freedoms”.
A DWP spokesperson said: “The government will have spent £241 billion on welfare spending in 2021-22 and continues to support disabled people with their everyday living needs.
“In addition, we are currently consulting on how we can go further so the welfare system better meets the needs of disabled people and those with health conditions through our health and disability green paper, as well as driving forward ambitious reforms across all areas of life through our National Disability Strategy.”
Each area of human rights covered by the EHRC tracker is given a colour-coded status, with five different levels, from “regression” to “no progress”, “limited progress”, “moderate progress” and up to “sustained progress”.
The 11 new assessments released on 16 September add to another 25 areas assessed since last December.
All 36 will now be regularly re-assessed for progress by the UK government, while separate analysis will continue to assess progress by the Welsh government.
The Human Rights Tracker currently shows that the UK government has made moderate progress in just two areas, limited progress in 18 areas, and no progress in eight areas (including social security).
In another eight areas, EHRC says there has been “sustained or severe regression”, including in inclusive education, poverty, social care and independent living.
Last December, on social care, EHRC reported: “Levels of unmet need for adult social care have increased in recent years, due to rising demand and funding constraints.”
And on independent living, EHRC reported last December that increasing numbers of disabled and older adults were “unable to get the support they need at home or within the community”, while there was “a real shortage of accessible homes”.
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