Watchdogs’ concern over government refusal to act on UN rights reports

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Four equality and human rights watchdogs have heavily criticised the government for its failure to address the serious concerns raised in a “damning” UN report on the rights of disabled people across the UK.

A year on from the report by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (pictured), in which it told the UK government to make more than 80 improvements to how its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights, the four bodies have concluded that it has taken only “limited steps” to address those concerns.

In a new report, they say they are concerned at the government’s failure to produce a comprehensive strategy to show how it will implement the committee’s recommendations.

And they have criticised the UK government’s “continuing reluctance” to accept the conclusions of a ground-breaking inquiry by the committee that found in late 2016 that it was guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights.

This week’s report was put together by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, collectively known as the UK Independent Mechanism (UKIM), which is tasked with monitoring progress on implementing the convention in the UK.

The UKIM report says the picture emerging from recent evidence is “deeply concerning”, as disabled people across the UK “continue to face serious regression of many of their rights”.

It concludes: “Social protections have been reduced and disabled people and their families continue to be some of the hardest hit.

“More and more disabled people are finding it difficult to live independently and be included, and participate, in their communities on an equal basis.”

The report by the four watchdogs looks at the seven areas in which the UN committee asked the government for a progress report.

On independent living, UKIM says there has been “limited progress”, with evidence that adult social care is at “crisis point”, while the closure of the Independent Living Fund has led to a “postcode lottery for support”.

On social protection, UKIM says the UK government has failed to act on research showing the “disproportionate and significantly adverse effect of welfare reform on disabled people’s rights to independent living and to an adequate standard of living and social security”.

And it says it remains “seriously concerned” at the government’s continuing failure to assess the cumulative impact on disabled people of multiple reforms that have affected living standards and social security.

On employment, the UKIM report praises the “very positive first step” made last year by the government in launching plans to increase the number of disabled people in work by one million in 10 years – despite strong criticism of those plans by disabled people’s organisations – but says that further reform of the work capability assessment process is “urgently needed”.

UKIM says some work has been done to tackle prejudice and negative attitudes towards disabled people, but it warns that nothing appears to have been done to address the committee’s main concerns in this area, with “no steps taken to tackle the negative attitudes towards those claiming social security benefits, and, more broadly, to promote the human rights model of disability”.

The UKIM report also warns of continuing barriers to accessing justice for disabled people in England and Wales, with a “substantial decrease in the number of disabled people being granted legal aid” as a result of reforms introduced through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

And it criticises the “continued lack of action” in setting up systems to “ensure that disabled people and their organisations are involved in the design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of legislation, policy or programmes that affect their lives”.

UKIM also criticises the failure of the UK and devolved governments to make any effort to spread awareness of the committee’s 2016 and 2017 reports, pointing out that neither of them have been published on the UK government’s website.

In response to the UKIM report, a government spokeswoman said in a statement: “We’re committed to building a society which is fully inclusive of disabled people across every area of their lives, from transport and housing to healthcare and employment.

“Our response to the UN sets out our progress over the last year, including the creation of a new inter-ministerial group on disability and society, which will drive progress against the implementation of the UN convention.

“While we’ve made significant progress, there is always more we can do. We’re determined to continue making progress in creating a society that works for everyone, where all can participate fully, and be included in society.”

She said the government would spend an estimated £54 billion in 2018-19 on benefits to support disabled people and those with long term health conditions, up from £44.7 billion in 2010-11, while nearly 600,000 more disabled people had moved into work in the four years to 2017.

Last month, Disability News Service reported that the UK government – in its own report to the UN committee – appeared to have decided that there was a need for improvements in just six of the 25 areas it was asked to respond on.

Its response to most of the UN committee’s recommendations was to ignore or dismiss the criticisms and defend its existing policies, with Inclusion London describing its report as “deeply unsatisfying”.

 

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