The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights has conducted an inquiry into the UK Government’s implementation of Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) – the right to live independently and to be included in the community. The inquiry which began in 2011 has received evidence from over 300 witnesses.
The inquiry has highlighted just how little awareness, understanding and employment of the Convention there is by the Tory-led Government. Very few of the witnesses made specific reference to the Convention in their presented evidence, despite the inquiry being conducted by the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, with the terms of reference clearly framing the inquiry as being about Article 19 of the UNCRPD.
“This finding is of international importance”, said Oliver Lewis, MDAC Executive Director, “Our experience is that many Governments are of the view that the CRPD is nothing more than a policy nicety, rather than a treaty which sets out legal obligations which governments must fulfil.”
The report is particularly critical of the Minister for Disabled People (Maria Miller, at the time) who told the Committee that the CRPD was “soft law”. The Committee criticised this as “indicative of an approach to the treaty which regards the rights it protects as being of less normative force than those contained in other human rights instruments.” (See para. 23 in the report, the link is at the foot of this article.) The Committee’s view is that the CRPD is hard law, not soft law.
Dr Hywel Francis MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “We are concerned to learn that the right of disabled people to independent living may be at risk through the cumulative impact of current reforms. Even though the UK ratified the UNCPRD in 2009 with cross-party support, the Government is unable to demonstrate that sufficient regard has been paid to the Convention in the development of policy with direct relevance to the lives of disabled people. The right to independent living in UK law may need to be strengthened further, and we call on the Government and other interested organisations to consider the need for a free-standing right to independent living in UK law.”
“The Government is meant to include disabled people in making sure people have their human rights upheld. We are concerned that a part of the Law on treating people equally and fairly (Equality Act section 149) does not say any more that disabled people should be involved. This is a step backwards.”
In other words, the Tory-led Coalition has quietly removed this part of the Equality Act.
The budget of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which was established by the Labour Party when they were drafting this flagship policy, is being reduced by over 60%, its staffing cut by 72%, and its powers restricted by the Coalition. Provisions that are being repealed by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (ERR) Bill include the duty on public authorities to have due regard to the need to reduce socio-economic inequalities.
Savage Legal Aid cuts from April 2013 have also contributed significantly to creating further barriers to ensuring Equal Rights law protect us, and the Tory-driven Legal Aid Bill also contravenes our right to a fair trial under Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
This is not a coincidental multiple policy timeline, but rather a very coordinated political attack on potential legal challenges at a time when Tory-led severe and devastating multiple welfare and provision cuts have affected disabled people so disproportionately. The changes, which came into effect in April, will hit “the same group of disabled people over and over again”.
The threats to the legal infrastructure make it all the more important to mobilise all disadvantaged groups around equality as a fundamental human right.
The Report draws attention to several significant Human Rights issues, including:
- the need for freestanding legislation to protect the right to independent living in UK law,
- the effect of current reforms to benefits and services on the ability of disabled people to enjoy independent living,
- the role played by the UNCRPD in policy development and decision-making at all levels of government,
- the need for the use of equality impact assessments,
- the effects of devolution on implementation of the UNCRPD, and
- hate crime
The right to independent living does not exist as a free-standing right in UK law. Although it is protected and promoted to some extent by a matrix of rights, the Committee believes that this is not enough. It argues that the Government and other interested parties should immediately assess the need for, and feasibility of, legislation to establish independent living as a free-standing right. In addition, the Committee concludes that the UNCRPD is “hard law” and that the Government should fulfil their obligations under the Convention on that basis.
The Committee finds that:
- reforms to benefits and services (let’s be frank here, they are not welfare “reforms”, they are cuts) risk leaving disabled people without the support they need to live independently;
- restrictions in local authority eligibility criteria for social care support, the replacement of the Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payment, the closure of the Independent Living Fund and changes to housing benefit risk interacting in a particularly harmful way for disabled people;
- people fear that the cumulative impact of these changes will force them out of their homes and local communities and into residential care.
It also finds that:
- the Government has not conducted an Equality impact assessment of the cumulative impact of current “reforms” on disabled people. The Report urges them do so, and to report on the extent to which these “reforms “are enabling them and local authorities to comply with their obligations under the UNCRPD.
- The Committee states that the Government should make a commitment to Parliament that they will give due consideration to the articles of the Convention when making legislation. The UNCRPD did not have a significant role in the development of policy and legislation, as is required by the Convention.
Furthermore, the Committee criticises changes to the duties of public authorities in England under the Equality Act 2010, which no longer require the production of equality impact assessments of changes in policy, nor the involvement of disabled people in developing policies which will affect them.
The Committee also expresses a major concern over a growing incidence of hate crime against disabled people and urges the Government take action to foster respect for the rights and dignity of disabled people.
Article 19 states that the Government must always ensure it “stops things getting worse.” This has NOT happened. The quality of so many sick and disabled people’s lives in this Country has been radically, significantly and DELIBERATELY reduced since the Tory-led Coalition took Office in 2010. This needs to change as a matter of urgency.
The Government’s “reforms” have led to a terrible increase in deaths amongst sick and disabled people, and we have already seen a significant rise in suicides that are directly linked with the Tory-driven austerity measures.
When we genuinely seek to improve the situation of the poorest and vulnerable, first of all we will need to spend time studying the privileged elite and their lifestyle choices of tax avoidance, their own economic lasciviousness and lack of capacity for personal and social responsibility.
We need to pay attention to Government handouts (of our money) to banks, private businesses and the wealthy: we need to appraise the dependency and culture of entitlement that these sponsored acts have fostered, and of course special focus should be on the amoral decisions and anti-social actions of the feckless, scrounging wealthy, and with particularly careful, critical scrutiny of the Government responsible for policies that re-distribute and concentrate our wealth and their advantage and power, therefore creating social divisions, inequality and poverty, perpetuating and extending it.
The Tory-led Coalition prefers to take money from the vulnerable, the sick and disabled, and hand it out to millionaires.
We need to ask why our Government refuses to instigate or agree an inquiry into the substantial rise in deaths amongst sick and disabled people, as these deaths are so clearly a direct consequence of this Government’s policies. What kind of Government uses the media to scape-goat and stigmatise sick and disabled people, by lying and inventing statistics to “justify” the persecution of some of our most vulnerable citizens, and the withdrawal of their crucial lifelines and support?
One that does not value those lives, or regard them as having an equal worth with others.
“We are raising more money for the rich” – David Cameron, 12th December 2012
The European courts have their priorities wrong. Why aren’t they stopping the disability deaths? – Mike Sivier, Vox Political
Did They Hope We Wouldn’t Notice? Under The Smokescreen – John D Clare
The Coming Tyranny and The Legal Aid Bill – KittySJones