I reported last year that the UK has become the first country to face a United Nations inquiry into disability rights violations. A formal investigation was launched by the United Nation’s Committee regarding the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Officials from the United Nation’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are to visit Britain after the Tories announced a wave of new austerity measures, including slashing disability benefits by a further £30 a week.
Thousands of sick and disabled people claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are to have their weekly payment cut from £102.15 to £73.10, which is the same amount as jobseekers’ allowance, if they are assessed as being able to undertake “work-related activity”. Bearing in mind that in order to claim ESA in the first place, prior to assessment, a doctor has already deemed this group of people unfit for work, the move to cut lifeline benefits further is especially cruel and inhumane.
We signed up to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities under the last Labour government. On 8 June 2009, the UK government ratified the Convention, signaling its commitment to take concrete action to comply with the legal rights and obligations contained in the Convention. The Government also ratified the Convention’s Optional Protocol.
The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a side-agreement to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It was adopted on 13 December 2006, and entered into force at the same time as its parent Convention on 3 May 2008. As of July 2015, it has 92 signatories and 87 state parties.
The Optional Protocol establishes an individual complaints mechanism for the Convention similar to that of other Conventions. But this Protocol also accepts individual rights on economic, social and cultural rights. Parties agree to recognise the competence of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to consider complaints from individuals or groups who claim their rights under the Convention have been violated. The Committee can request information from and make recommendations to a party.
In addition, parties may also permit the Committee to investigate, report on and make recommendations on “grave or systematic violations” of the Convention.
In December 2014, the UN Human Rights Council created the role of UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities. Part of the Special Rapporteur’s broad mandate is to report annually to the Human Rights Council and General Assembly with recommendations on how to better promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities.
The Special Rapporteur chose to focus her first report on a thematic inquiry into the right to social security, globally. The report will be published in October 2015.
The Commission’s response focuses on three areas from the UK that are highly relevant to the Special Rapporteur’s inquiry:
- The impact of reforms to the UK’s social security system on disabled people’s rights to independence and to an adequate standard of living;
- Whether the design and delivery of health and social care services in England is consistent with the rights to physical and mental health, independent living and freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and
- The impact of reforms affecting access to civil law justice in England and Wales on disabled people’s right to effective access to justice.
The Commission’s response to the UN Special Rapporteur’s inquiry into persons with disabilities right to social security can be found here.
The Disability Convention requires governments to designate one or more independent mechanisms to “promote, protect and monitor implementation” of the Convention.
The Commission, which is Britain’s National Human Rights Institution, has been designated alongside the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Northern Ireland Equality Commission to fulfill this role in UK.
The Sunday Herald has more recently reported that UN officials will visit the UK in the next few months to investigate whether Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare “reforms” have led to “grave or systematic violations” of disabled people’s human rights. According to the Scottish Herald, a leading Scottish disability charity has been advised that a visit by the Special Rapporteur and members of the Committee on the rights of persons with disabilities is expected in the “near future”.
United Nations (UN) investigations are conducted confidentially, I’ve already submitted reports and evidence regarding the impact of the welfare “reforms” on sick and disabled people. I’ve mostly focussed on the withdrawal of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), the adverse consequences of the Work Capability Assessment, workfare and sanctions.
Anyone wishing to make a submission may contact the UN here:
Catalina Devandas Aguilar
Special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities
Address: OHCHR-UNOG; CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
The Department of Work and Pensions have refused to comment regarding the inquiry.
Shocking statistics published by the Department of Work and Pensions last week showed thousands of people have died after being declared “fit for work”. The figures, which did not detail the cause of the deaths, revealed that at least 2,380 people died between December 2011 and February 2014 within six weeks of a work capability assessment (WCA), which found them found them fit for work.
Bill Scott, director of policy at Inclusion Scotland, a consortium of disability organisations, said: “The UN have notified us they will be visiting Britain to investigate … and want to meet with us when they come, sometime in the next few months.”
Inclusion Scotland has also made a submission to the study being prepared by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, which is examining the right of disabled people to social protection.
In the submission, Inclusion Scotland warned that the UK Government’s welfare reforms are “jeopardising disabled people’s right to life” by increasing the risk of suicide after loss of benefits. Last week, the Sunday Herald revealed that DWP staff had been given official guidance on how to deal with suicidal claimants left penniless after suffering benefit sanctions.
The Inclusion Scotland submission also highlights a series of shocking findings, including that disabled people in some areas of Scotland are waiting for up to ten months to access Personal Independent Payment (PIP) disability benefits, due to delays in assessments taking place.
Dr Simon Duffy, director of think tank The Centre for Welfare Reform, said independent research carried out since 2010 had shown the UK Government has targeted cuts mostly at people in poverty and people with disabilities. Disabled people have been targeted by cuts nine times more than other citizens. It also found that people with disabilities, who make up one in 13 of the population, bore almost a third (29%) of the cuts.
In fact the people with the most severe disabilities have faced cuts several times greater than those faced by cuts to the average citizen. This policy has been made even worse by processes of assessment and sanctions that are experienced as stigmatising and bullying.
The government has utterly failed to find jobs for the people they target – people who are often very sick, who have disabilities or who have mental health problems.
Instead we are seeing worrying signs that they are increasing rates of illness, suicide and poverty.
Many disabled people’s rights campaigners, such as Samuel Miller, Robert Livingstone, Mike Sivier and myself, amongst others, welcome this development. Many campaigners and organisations have made submissions to the UN, using the Optional Protocol mechanism. As I’ve said elsewhere, our political freedoms and human rights must not be subservient to Tory notions of economic success. Democracy is not about the private accumulation of wealth. It is about the wise use of the collective wealth for the common good of the public – that must extend to include ALL of our citizens. And a decent, civilised, democratic society supports its vulnerable members and upholds universal human rights.
Disabled people have been stigmatised, scapegoated and subjected to cuts in their lifeline support because of the financial mistakes and poor decision-making of government.
We need to ask why our Government has so far refused to instigate or agree an inquiry into the substantial rise in deaths amongst sick and disabled people, as these deaths are so clearly correlated with policy changes. Or why a cumulative impact assessment has not been carried out regarding the consequences of these extremely draconian policies.
Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone, used with thanks