Four human rights and equality watchdogs have been snubbed by the minister for disabled people after raising serious concerns about how her government dismissed a report that found it guilty of “grave or systematic” violations of the UN disability convention.
The UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) said last month that the UK government had discriminated against disabled people across three key parts of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
But the government responded to the report by dismissing its conclusions and all 11 of its recommendations.
Now the UK’s official independent mechanism (UKIM) for monitoring implementation of the convention – the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Scottish Human Rights Commission – has called on the UK government to “urgently reconsider” its response to the UN report.
It has written to Penny Mordaunt (pictured), the minister for disabled people, to express its concerns about both the findings of the report, and the government’s response.
But a DWP spokeswoman refused even to acknowledge the letter, after being asked for a comment by Disability News Service.
Instead, the spokeswoman said that “everything the government has to say about the UN inquiry is contained in its comprehensive official response [to the CRPD report]”.
In its analysis of the government’s response to the inquiry, UKIM says it has failed to show that it is giving “due regard to the need to promote the equality of disabled people or their broader human rights, when developing new law and policy”.
It says in the letter: “We welcome the publication of the inquiry report, and we are concerned by its conclusion that the UK Government’s programme of social security reform since 2010 has resulted in grave or systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights.
“Of even greater concern is the UK Government’s response, which suggests that it will not be taking action on any of the recommendations.”
The letter calls on the government to reconsider its position in the light of the “continuing impact on disabled people’s lives”.
The four commissions defend the way that CRPD researched the report, which they say was “robust and comprehensive” and “based on a rigorous review of the available evidence”.
UKIM itself contributed “detailed evidence” to the committee for its report.
This contrasts with comments made by work and pensions secretary Damian Green, who last month described the report as “patronising and offensive”.
UKIM points out that “similar concerns” to those outlined by CRPD have been raised in previous reports by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and in a letter from the UN special rapporteurs on housing, disabilities, poverty and food.
It calls on the government to “enhance the status” of the convention in UK law, and introduce a way to scrutinise policy and legislation to ensure it complies with UNCRPD.
And it calls on the government – like many other organisations before, including grassroots organisations of disabled people such as the WOWcampaign and Pat’s Petition, and EHRC itself – to “urgently” carry out a “human rights-based” assessment of the cumulative impact on disabled people of all of the social security reforms brought in since the coalition took power in 2010.
The four commissions also call on the UK government to take “urgent steps” to provide “sufficient independent living funding to each [local authority] to meet the needs of disabled people in their area”, following the closure of the Independent Living Fund.
And they say the government should provide councils with guidance on how to fulfil their duties to meet the convention’s independent living duties, and ensure that every local authority can report on independent living funding in its own areas.
The commissions also urge the UK government to commission independent research on the impact of its legal aid reforms on disabled people, and “take concrete steps to mitigate any adverse impacts identified”.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, the grassroots network of disabled people that persuaded the UN to carry out its inquiry, welcomed the UKIM intervention.
But she said: “DPAC tried working with EHRC in 2011 in an attempt to get them to challenge the government’s actions, which were eroding the rights of disabled people so badly.
“Therefore we’re very pleased to see some action at last, even if it is five years too late.”
Meanwhile, a new report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has found that – once account is taken of the higher costs faced by disabled people – half of people living in poverty are either disabled or are living with a disabled person in their household.
The report says that there are 4.2 million disabled people in poverty, and 7.1 million people in poverty who are either disabled themselves or live in a household with a disabled person.
Disability Rights UK said the JRF report was “a damning indictment of government policy towards disabled people”.