Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has asked David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions today to publish the details of the Government’s response to the United Nations inquiry into the allegations that Conservative policies are breaching the rights of disabled people in the UK. He also asked if the government intended to co-operate with the inquiry.
Such UN investigations are conducted confidentially by the UN and officials will not confirm or deny whether the UK is currently being put under scrutiny.
However, the ongoing inquiry been widely reported by disability rights groups and campaigners. The Department for Work and Pensions has previously declined to comment on the possibility of an investigation.
Mr Corbyn used his final question to ask about the United Nations inquiry into alleged “grave or systemic violations” of the rights of disabled people in the UK. The PM gave a dismissive response, saying the inquiry may not be “all it’s cracked up to be” and said that disabled people in other countries do not have the rights and support that “they” [disabled people] in the UK are offered. Cameron also implied that Labour’s “strong” equality legislation was a Conservative policy. However, the Equality Act was drafted under the guidance of Harriet Harman.
Jeremy Corbyn asks about David Cameron about his response to the UN inquiry at Prime Minister’s Questions
The United Nations team of investigators are expecting to meet with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, members of parliament, individual campaigners and disabled people’s organisations, representatives from local authorities and academics.
The team will be gathering direct evidence from individuals about the impact of government austerity measures, with a focus on benefit cuts and sanctions; cuts to social care; cuts to legal aid; the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF); the adverse impact of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA); the shortage of accessible and affordable housing; the impact of the bedroom tax on disabled people, and also the rise in disability hate crime.
Mr Corbyn said:
“This is deeply embarrassing to all of us in this house and indeed to the country as a whole. It’s very sad news.”
The Government’s approach to people with disabilities had been extremely controversial and been met with criticism from campaign groups. Disabled people have borne the brunt of austerity cuts, losing more income and support than any other social group, and this is despite the fact that Cameron promised in 2010 to protect the poorest, sick and disabled people and the most vulnerable.
In 2013, Dr Simon Duffy at the Centre for Welfare Reform published a briefing outlining how the austerity cuts are targeted. The report says:
The cuts are not fair.
They target the very groups that a decent society would protect:
- People in poverty (1 in 5 of us) bear 39% of all the cuts
- Disabled people (1 in 13 of us) bear 29% of all the cuts
- People with severe disabilities (1 in 50 of us) bear 15% of all the cuts
The report outlines further discrimination in how the austerity cuts have been targeted. The report says:
The unfairness of this policy is seen even more clearly when we look at the difference between the burden of cuts that falls on most citizens and the burdens that fall on minority groups. By 2015 the annual average loss in income or services will be:
- People who are not in poverty or have no disability will lose £467 per year
- People who are in poverty will lose £2,195 per year
- Disabled people will lose £4,410 per year
- Disabled people needing social care will lose £8,832 per year
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said at the Conservative party conference speech in Manchester that disabled people “should work their way out of poverty.”
The Work and Pensions Secretary has been widely criticised for removing support for disabled people who want to work: by closing Remploy factories, scrapping the Independent Living Fund, cuts to payments for a disability Access To Work scheme and cuts to Employment and Support Allowance.
The reformed Work Capability Assessment has been very controversial, with critics labeling them unfair, arbitrary, and heavily bureaucratic, weighted towards unfairly removing people’s sickness and disability benefit and forcing them to look for work.
The bedroom tax also hits disabled people disproportionately, with around two thirds of those affected by the under-occupancy penalty being disabled.
The United Nations have already deemed that the bedroom tax constitutes a violation of the human right to adequate housing in several ways. If, for example, the extra payments force tenants to cut down on their spending on food or heating their home. There are already a number of legal challenges to the bedroom tax under way in British courts. In principle the judiciary here takes into account the international human rights legislation because the UK has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The right to adequate housing is recognised in a number of international human rights instruments that the UK has signed up to.
UN rapporteur Raquel Rolnik called for the UK government last year to scrap its controversial bedroom tax policy. Rolnik’s report was dismissed as a “misleading Marxist diatribe” by Tory ministers, and she had been subject to a “blizzard of misinformation” and xenophobic tabloid reports.
The DWP’s sanctions regime has also been widely discredited, and there has been controvery over death statistics, eventually released by the Department after a long-running refusal to release the information under freedom of information law.
The Daily Mail has already preempted the visit from the special rapporteur, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, who is spearheading the ongoing inquiry into many claims that Britain is guilty of grave or systematic violations of the rights of sick and disabled people, by using racist stereotypes, and claiming that the UN are “meddling”. The Mail blatantly attempted to discredit this important UN intervention and the UN rapporteur before the visit.
Meanwhile, Cameron seems very keen to play the investigation down, and dismiss the impact of his government’s “reforms” on the lives of sick and disabled people.
We are a very wealthy, so-called first-world liberal democracy, the fact that such an inquiry has been deemed necessary at all ought to be a source of great shame for this government.