UN Warns of UK Disability Rights ‘Catastrophe’

A United Nations committee claims that changes and cuts to UK disability policies have created a worsening human rights situation that is leaving some of the UK’s poorest and most vulnerable in crisis.

The UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, or CRPD, has issued a sometimes scathing assessment of the UK’s disability policies, including the controversial “fit to work” tests, declaring that the UK is failing swathes of people — and, in some cases, may be misrepresenting its own data. 

Theresia Degener, leader of the CRPD, told UK officials during a recent two-day meeting:

Evidence before us now and in our inquiry procedure as published in our 2016 report reveals that social cut policies have led to a human catastrophe in your country, totally neglecting the vulnerable situation people with disabilities find themselves in.

August’s meeting in Geneva was designed to assess specifically how well the UK is sticking to its commitments under the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People. The UK ratified this accord in 2009 as part of its continued desire to serve as a world leader on disability rights. 

However, the UK’s Conservative government has faced a slew of criticism from disability rights advocates over welfare reforms that, many claim, have unfairly targeted disabled people and worsened their existing financial hardships. The government framed schemes like the so-called “back to work” program as a way of helping those in need while cutting support for people who could work but refused to.

But numerous cases have emerged in which individuals were assessed as fit to work, despite serious health issues. In some cases these circumstances have allegedly led to death, including suicide.

In addition, the scheme has allegedly failed those who have experienced growing resistance to claiming disability allowance. At the same time, the government’s back to work schemes have fallen short on helping people with mental health issues return to suitable jobs.

Prompted by compelling evidence that the UK was failing its responsibilities under the Convention, the United Nations began an investigation in 2012 into the state of human rights for disabled persons.

Two members of the UN’s CRPD traveled across the UK’s major cities and assessed how disabled people interacted with the UK’s current welfare system. They also compared official statistics to real-world experiences and examined the impact of legislation like the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and the Welfare Reform and Work Act of 2016.

The CRPD found that implementation of initiatives like Personal Independence Payments, as well as tightened social care regulations, have increased the barriers facing disabled people who are trying to live independently.

Of course, Brexit presents another area of concern for the CRPD. Some of the cornerstone human rights breakthroughs in the UK have resulted from the UK’s interaction with European law as part of its EU membership. But when the UK leaves the European Union, the courts will be under no obligation to refer to EU judgments.

As such, the CRPD aims to see the UK create relevant safeguards that will ensure none of the rights gained through appeals to the EU courts will be eroded post-Brexit.

To be clear, human rights mechanisms in the UK continue to be some of the strongest in the world, and the CRPD recognizes the UK government’s overall desire to meet its obligations on disability rights.

But the CRPD remains particularly concerned that the so-called austerity measures have disproportionately impacted the disabled. Many of those measures, including key aspects of the “bedroom tax” and areas of the fit-to-work assessments, have also been judged unlawful by the courts.

Disability Rights UK CEO Kamran Mallickis explained:

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to present what is happening in the real lives of disabled to the UN committee alongside representatives of other disabled people’s organisations. … We look forward to working with the Government on improving the quality of life for disabled people and continuing with the dialogue that has been started in Geneva. Disabled people’s rights have gone backward in recent years. By working together let us get the UK back into the leading position for rights where it should be.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

58 comments

Marie W
Marie Wabout a year ago

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Paulo Reeson
Paulo Rabout a year ago

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Paulo Reeson
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Paulo Reeson
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Paulo R
Paulo Rabout a year ago

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Paulo R
Paulo Rabout a year ago

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Paulo R
Paulo Rabout a year ago

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Paulo R
Paulo Rabout a year ago

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Paulo R
Paulo Rabout a year ago

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Stephanie s
Stephanie Yabout a year ago

Thanks

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