Category: United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD)

Concerns about the impact of Brexit on the human rights of disabled people in update report to UNCRPD

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Yesterday I wrote an article about the government’s shameful lack of progress on disability rights in the UK. I discussed the details of a new report and the recommendations made by the UK Independent Mechanism update report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

This is a summary of some key concerns that I only touched on in my original write up, and it also focuses on one of the important themes that emerged in the report: the potential impact of Brexit on disabled people’s rights. 

The new report and submission to the UNCRPD – UK Independent Mechanism update report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (published October 2018) – provides an independent assessment of the UK Independent Mechanism (UKIM) on the “disappointing” lack of progress by the UK governments to implement the UN’s recommendations since August 2017. 

A year on, there is still no comprehensive UK-wide strategy demonstrating how the UK will implement the CRPD Committee’s recommendations. There has also been “continued reluctance” from the UK Government to accept the conclusions of the CRPD Committee’s inquiry report on the impact of the UK Government’s policies on the rights of disabled people. 

Disabled people across the UK continue to face serious regression of their rights to an adequate standard of living and social protection, to live independently and to be included in the community. UKIM has reiterated that the grave and systematic violations identified by the CRPD Committee need to be addressed as a matter of urgency and that the overall approach of the UK Government towards social security protection requires a complete overhaul, so that it is informed by human rights frameworks, standards and principles, to ensure disabled people’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

Despite the empirical evidence presented from a variety of researchers and the UN investigation concerning the significantly adverse effect of welfare reform on disabled people’s rights to independent living and to an adequate standard of living and social  security, the UK Government has failed to act on this evidence and to implement the CRPD Committee’s recommendations regarding these rights.

The authors of the report remain seriously concerned about the continued failure of the UK Government to conduct an assessment of the cumulative impact on disabled people  of multiple policy, cuts and law reforms in relation to living standards and social security. 

In the section about prejudice and negative attitudes, the report also cites a shameful example of rhetoric from the government that has potentially reinforced negative attitudes and the stigma surrounding mental health and disability: “This includes the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, stating before a Committee of the UK Parliament: ‘It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce, including far higher levels of participation by marginal groups and very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people – something we should be extremely proud of – may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements.’

Many people understood this statement as indicating that the increase in disabled people in employment is partly responsible for the UK’s decreasing productivity.”

The report also says that employment rates for disabled people have actually risen only very marginally.  

Conservative prejudice is embedded in social security policy and administration

The UKIM report says that government has not taken appropriate measures to combat negative and discriminatory stereotypes or prejudice against persons with disabilities in public and the media, including the government’s own claims that ‘dependency’ on benefits is in itself a disincentive of employment. This is important because it shows just how embedded Conservative prejudice is in policies and within our social security administration.

The idea that welfare somehow creates the problems it was designed to alleviate, such as poverty and inequality, has become almost ‘common sense’ and because of that, it’s a narrative that remains largely unchallenged. Yet international research has shown that generous welfare provision leads to more, better quality and sustainable employment. 

Moreover, this ideological position has been used politically as a justification to reduce social security provision so that it is no longer an adequate amount to meet citizens’ basic living needs. The aim is to discredit the welfare system itself, along with those needing its support. The government have long wished to replace the publicly funded social security provision ultimately with mandatory private insurance schemes.

The idea that welfare creates ‘dependency’ and ‘disincentivises’ work has been used as a justification for the introduction of cuts and an extremely punitive regime entailing ‘conditionality’ and sanctions. The governenment have selectively used punitive behavioural modification elements of behavioural economics theory and its discredited behaviourist language of ‘incentives’ to steadily withdraw publicly funded social security provision.

However, most of the public have already contributed to social security, those needing support tend to move in and out of work. Very few people remain out of work on a permanent basis. The Conservatives have created a corrosive and divisive myth that there are two discrete groups in society: tax payers and ‘scroungers’ – a class of economic free riders. This of course is not true, since people claiming welfare support also pay taxes, such as VAT and council tax, and most have already worked and will work again, given the opportunity to do so. For those who are too ill to work, as a so-called civilise society, we should not hesitate to support them.

In the recommendations, the authors say the government should implement broad mass media campaigns, in consultation with organisations representing persons with disabilities, particularly those affected by the welfare reform, to promote them as full rights holders, in accordance with the Convention; and adopt measures to address complaints of harassment and hate crime by persons with disabilities, promptly investigate those allegations, hold the perpetrators accountable and provide fair and appropriate compensation to victims.

As a society we take tend to take human rights for granted. We seldom think about rights because much of the time, there is no need to. It’s not until we directly experience discrimination and oppression that we recognise the value of having a universal human rights framework. Our rights define the relationship between citizen and state, and ensure that there is no abuse of power. However, we no longer have equal access to justice and redress for human rights breaches and discrimination. 

The high demand for advice on disability benefits since the government’s welfare reform means that the almost complete removal of welfare benefits from the scope of legal aid has had a disproportionate impact on disabled people or those with a long-term health condition.

People entitled to disability benefits relied on legal aid to support appeals of incorrect decisions and to provide a valuable check on decision-making concerning eligibility for welfare support. The revisions to the financial eligibility criteria for legal aid have had a disproportionate impact on various groups including disabled people, women, children and migrants. This is because of the restrictions that the government placed on legal aid accessibility with the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).

There has been a 99% decrease in support provided by the Legal Aid Agency for clients with disability-related welfare benefits issues, compared with pre-LASPO levels, and the total number of such claims has plummeted from 29,801 in 2011/12 to 308 in 2016/17.

The government has failed to ensure access to justice, removing appropriate legal advice and support, including through reasonable and procedural accommodation for disabled people seeking redress and reparation for the violation of their rights, as covered in the  report.

It’s difficult to imagine that this wasn’t a coordinated effort on the part of the government to restrict citizen freedoms, support and access to justice for precisely those who need justice and remedies the most.

Human rights don’t often seem as though they matter, until they do. But by then, it may be too late. 

Concerns about the impact of Brexit on the human rights of disabled people

In 2016, I wrote an article about concerns raised regarding the rights of disabled people following Brexit. Earlier this year, I wrote another article about my concerns that the European fundamental rights charter was excluded in the European Union (EU) withdrawal Bill, including protection from eugenic policy.

The result of the EU referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, and forthcoming withdrawal, carries some obvious and very worrying implications for the protection of citizens rights and freedoms in the UK. Historically the UK Conservative government has strongly opposed much of Europe’s social rights agenda.

So it was very concerning that the House of Commons voted down a Labour amendment to ensure that our basic human rights are protected after Brexit, as set out in the European Union Charter. 

The EU Withdrawal Bill threatened to significantly reduce existing human rights protections. It excluded both the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (in its entirety) and the right of action for violations of EU General Principles from domestic law after the UK’s withdrawal. It also handed sweeping powers to ministers to alter legislation without appropriate parliamentary scrutiny, placing current rights and equality laws at risk.

Worryingly, Suella Fernandes, who was promoted to the Brexit department earlier this year warned in November last year that transposing the ‘flabby’ charter into British law would give UK citizens additional protections on issues such as “biomedicine, eugenics, personal data and collective bargaining.”

However, the very fact that anyone at all in government objects to retaining these fundamental rights and protections indicates that we do very clearly need them.

It should be inconceivable that a democratic legislature would vote to take away citizens rights. The regressive step means the loss of the Charter goes rights that simply don’t exist in the Human Rights Act or in our common law. Gone is the enforceable right to human dignity. Gone are our rights to data protection, comprehensive protection for the rights of the child, a free-standing right to non-discrimination, protection of a child’s best interests and the right to human dignity, refugee rights, the right to conscientious objection, academic freedom and wide-ranging fair trial rights to name but a few. Then there are the losses of economic and social rights. Gone too, are the right to a private life, freedom of speech, equality provisions and employment rights governing how workers are treated. These are all laws that protect us all from abuses of power. 

A group of more than 20 organisations and human rights legal experts, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission, signed an open letter on the importance of the Charter of Fundamental Rights ahead of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill returning to Parliament on 16 January this year. The letter was published in the Observer.

Trevor Tayleur, an associate professor at the University of Law, explained that the charter, although narrower in focus than the Human Rights Act, offers a far more robust defence of fundamental rights.

“At present, the main means of protecting human rights in the UK is the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) ,” he said. “This incorporates the bulk of the rights and freedoms enshrined in the European convention on human rights into UK law and thereby enables individuals to enforce their convention rights in the UK courts. However, there is a significant limitation to the protection afforded by the HRA because it does not override acts of parliament.

“In contrast, the protection afforded by the EU charter of fundamental rights is much stronger because where there is a conflict between basic rights contained in the charter and an act of the Westminster parliament, the charter will prevail over the act.” 

Under the HRA, only an individual who is a “victim” of a rights violation can bring a claim, whereas anyone with “sufficient interest” can apply for judicial review based on the Charter (see this briefing at p 11)

In their report, UKIM say:  “There are fears that the significant uncertainty in relation to Brexit will lead to a further deterioration of disabled people’s rights.

“The lack of a devolved government in Northern Ireland is also a specific concern to that jurisdiction, because it is significantly inhibiting the relevant departments from taking the required steps. Without a clear and coordinated plan for how the UK and devolved governments will address the UN recommendations systematically, the limited steps taken so far are unlikely to be enough to address the concerns raised by the CRPD Committee.”

The report goes on to say: “Following the European Union (EU) referendum in June 2016, there continues to be significant uncertainty regarding the future applicability of  existing human rights protections in the UK that derive from EU law. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights was excluded from the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, meaning that from ‘exit day’ it will no longer apply in domestic law. 

“As a result, domestic protections are more vulnerable to repeal. The Charter goes further than the non-discrimination provisions in the Equality Act 2010 or the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Article 26 of the Charter, in particular, is a useful interpretive tool to support disabled people’s right to independence and integration and participation in the community. 

The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 also leaves human rights protections at risk of being changed through the use of wide-ranging delegated powers. This means that changes to fundamental rights currently protected by EU law can be made by ministers through secondary legislation [statutory instruments, usually reserved for ‘non-controversial policy amendments] without being subject to full parliamentary scrutiny.

The EU is itself a party to the CRPD. Under EU law, international treaties to which the EU is party have a different status than they do under UK law. For example, EU law (unlike UK law) must be interpreted consistently with the CRPD. To ensure there is no regression, and that disabled people in the UK benefit from future progress driven by the CRPD, the UK Government should ensure these protections are incorporated into UK law, for example by giving enhanced status to the CRPD. 

The Conservatives have used secondary legslation to try and quietly push through several very controversial policies over recent years, such as £4bn-worth of cuts to family tax credits, and the removal of maintenance grants from around half a million of the poorest students in England. The changes mainly hit disabled, ethnic minority and older students.

The government have introduced swathes of significant new laws covering everything from fracking to fox hunting and benefit cuts without debate and scrutiny on the floor of the House of Commons. Many of these policies were not included in the Conservatives’ election manifesto and were nodded through by obscure Commons committees without the substance of the change being debated.

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After the House of Lords successfully challenged the tax credit instrument, the Government then proposed limiting peers rights to reject statutory instruments. This would mean if one was rejected by the Lords, the ministers would simply have to retable it and it would pass automatically.  All of this should be seen alongside other Conservative proposals – including limits on freedom of information, changes to constituency boundaries and electoral registration, attempts to choke the opposition of funding within the Trade Union Bill, and the Lobbying Act. 

In light of this repressive pattern of behaviour, you could be forgiven for thinking that we’ve entered the realms of constitutional gerrymandering, with an authoritarian executive waging war on the institutions that hold them to account. With its fear of opposition and loathing of challenge, the government wants to stifle debate, shut down opposition and block proper scruting and democratic accountability. 

It is within this authoritarian political context that many of us have raised concerns about the impact of Brexit on the human rights of disabled citizens.

I’m always concerned that language use sometimes reinforces prejudices against disabled people by focusing on us as a group as ‘vulnerable’ and as ‘those in need’, as opposed to citizens and rights holders. However, grave and systematic violations of disabled peoples’ human right inevitably increases our vulnerability to further political abuse. 

The Yogyakarta Principles, one of the international human rights instruments use the term “vulnerability” as such potential to abuse and/or social and economic exclusion. Social vulnerability is created through the interaction of social forces and multiple “stressors”, and resolved through social (as opposed to individual) means. 

Social vulnerability is the product of social inequalities. It arises through social, cultural, political and economic processes. 

While some individuals within a socially vulnerable context may break free from the hierarchical order, social vulnerability itself persists because of structural – social, cultural economical and political – influences that continue to reinforce vulnerability. Some campaigners are very critical of the use of the word ‘vulnerability’, because they feel it leads to attitudes and perceptions of disabled people as passive victims

Since 2010, no social group has organised, campaigned and protested more than disabled people. Many of us have lived through harrowing times under this government and the last, when our very existence has become so precarious because of targeted and cruel Conservative policies and disproportionate cuts to our lifeline support. Yet we have remained strong.in our resolve. Despite this, some of our dear friends and comrades  have been tragically lost – they have not survived, yet many of them were very strong in their resolve to challenge discrimination and oppression.

In one of the wealthiest democratic nations on earth, no group of people should have to fight for their survival. Vulnerability is rather more about the potential for some social groups being subjected to political abuse than it is about individual qualities. Disabled people currently  are and have been. This is empirically verified by the report and conclusions drawn from the United Nations inquiry into the grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights here in the UK, by a so-called democratic government. 

The government’s ‘paternalism’ is authoritarian gaslighting

Over recent years, Conservative policies have become increasingly ‘paternalist’, also reflecting the authoritarian turn, in that they are designed to act upon us, to ‘change’ our behaviours through the use of negative reinforcement (‘incentives’), while we are completely excluded from policy design and aims. Our behaviours are being aligned with neoliberal outcomes, conflating our needs and interests with the private financial profit of the powerful. 

As one of the instigators of the United Nations investigation, to which I regularly submitted evidence regarding the government’s systematic violations of the human rights of disabled people, and as a person with disability, I don’t care for being  described by Damian Green as “patronising” or being told that disabled people – the witnesses of the investigation – presented an “outdated view” of disability in the UK. This is a government minister attempting to discredit and re-write our accounts and experiences while ignoring the empirical evidence we have presented. Such actions are profoundly oppressive.

The only opportunity disabled people have been presented with to effectively express our fears, experiences and concerns about increasingly punitive and discriminatory policies, to voice a democratic opinion more generally and to be heard, has been in dialogue with an international human rights organisation, and still this government refuse to hear what we have to say. Nor are we consulted with, democratically included or invited to participate in the executive’s decision-making that directly affects us. As UKIM note: 

“There is a continued lack of action from the UK and devolved governments on the CRPD Committee’s recommendations. This includes setting up systems that will  ensure that disabled people and their organisations are involved in the design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of legislation, policy or programmes that affect their lives. It remains unclear how the new Inter-Ministerial Group on Disability and Society will work with disabled people and their organisations, and UKIM, to promote and monitor implementation of UN CRPD. 

“It is particularly concerning that the UN CRPD’s requirement to effectively involve disabled people and their organisations is not specifically reflected in the inter-ministerial group’s terms of reference. Nor do the terms of reference refer to the CRPD or the CRPD Committee’s recommendations.”

Oppression always involves the objectification of those being dominated; all forms of oppression imply the devaluation of the subjectivity and experiences of the oppressed.

This is very evident in the government’s approach to designing policies that act upon us.  The government has consistently failed to actively consult, engage with and include disabled people, our representative organisations and give due consideration to our views in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of any legislation, policy or programme action related to our rights. Furthermore, the current Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work, Sarah Newton, has refused to meet with disabled people and allied organisations. (See also I’m a disabled person and Sarah Newton is an outrageous, gaslighting liar.)

Last year, Theresia Degener, who leads the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), said the UK Government has “totally neglected” disabled people, during a two day meeting with UK government officials in Geneva.

Degener told them: “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.” 

The Government’s welfare cuts have resulted in “grave and systematic violations” of the rights of disabled people – a claim opposed by ministers but supported by UK courts.

For example, Judges have ruled that three of the government’s flagship welfare policies are illegal because of the impact they have on disabled people and single parents. In January 2016, the Court of Appeal declared the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ unlawful because of its consequences for disabled children, as well as victims of domestic violence. 

Sanctions imposed on people who refused to or could not take part in the Department for Work and Pension’s ‘back to work’ schemes were also thrown out by Court of Appeal judges in April 2016. In June 2017 the High Court said the government’s benefit cap is unlawful and causes “real misery for no good purpose”.  This year, a High Court ruling found that the Personal Independence Payments (PIP) policy had discriminated against people with mental health conditions. 

Between 2011 and 2017 the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) underpaid more than £450,000,000 in means-tested benefits, due to its mishandling of the process by which claimants were moved from incapacity benefit to employment and support allowance.

When announcing its plans to remedy those underpayments on 14th December 2017, the DWP claimed the law ‘barred’ it from paying claimants any underpayments arising before 21st October 2014. That would have had two serious effects: first, up to £150,000,000 of the underpaid benefit would have been kept by the Government instead of passed to citizens who were deprived of it through no fault of their own; and second, any arrears which were paid to disabled people could after 52 weeks have been treated as ‘capital’, and reduced or stopped their ongoing entitlement to benefit.

In March 2018 the Child Poverty Action Group, acting for one affected claimant, brought judicial review proceedings in R (Smith) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions JR/1249/2018 arguing that the DWP’s position was unlawful. The DWP accepted that it ‘got the law wrong’. The DWP said it will now start making those payments. It was necessary to take legal action against the Government because it said it had no legal power to fully remedy the consequences of a major error it had made in transferring claimants from incapacity benefit to employment and support allowance.

Ministers have also accused by the UN of misleading the public about the impact of Government policies by refusing to answer questions and using statistics in an “unclear way.”

Gaslighting.

The CRPD Committee has requested that the State party (the government) disseminate the concluding observations of their inquiry widely, including to non-governmental organisations and organisations of persons with disabilities, and to disabled people themselves and members of their families, in national and minority languages, including sign language, and in accessible formats, including Easy Read, and to make them available on the government website on human rights. 

That hasn’t happened and is unlikely to do so in the future. So please do share this article, The government’s shameful lack of progress on disability rights in the UK – new report update and submission to the UNCRPD Committee, and the UKIM update and shadow report widely.

 

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I don’t make any money from my work. I’m disabled through illness and on a very low income. But you can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. I co-run a group online that helps people with ESA and PIP claim, assessment, mandatory review and appeal, increasingly providing one to one emotional support, too.

The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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The government’s shameful lack of progress on disability rights in the UK – new report update and submission to the UNCRPD Committee

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Despite equality being enshrined in protective legislation, disabled people in the UK are facing more barriers, exclusion and falling further behind as they try to thrive in an environment characterised still by oppressive obstruction, misunderstanding and austerity measures that hit home repeatedly, disproportionately and cumulatively.

Disabled people are more likely to be in fuel and food poverty, to have problems finding housing and to be affected by the bedroom tax.

We are underrepresented in politics, find it harder to access support and transport, experience significant health inequalities, and are less likely to be in employment. There is a significant wage gap between disabled and nondisabled people, too.

It is a shameful that in our society millions of disabled people are still not being treated as equal citizens and are denied the everyday rights that others take for granted. 

In August 2017, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee) published a report that examined the extent to which the UK and devolved governments are in compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). 

The CRPD Committee’s main concerns and recommendations to the UK governments were set out in its ‘concluding observations’ in their report, which summarised that the UK government had “gravely and systematically violated the human rights of disabled persons.”

The CRPD Committee requested further information from the UK one year on from the examination of the steps taken to implement its recommendations on: independent living; work and employment; and an adequate standard of living and social protection; as well as some related issues covered in the report on the CRPD Committee’s 2016 inquiry.  

A new report and submission to the UN CRPD – UK Independent Mechanism update report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in October 2018) – provides an assessment via the UK Independent Mechanism (UKIM) on the steps taken (or not taken) by the UK governments to implement the UN’s recommendations since August 2017.  

The EHRC report says that the UK has taken “only very limited steps to address the concerns and recommendations of the CRPD Committee”. UKIM expressed “disappointment that the UK governments have not seized on this important opportunity to reflect on and progress disability rights.” The report authors are concerned by the lack of a prompt response to the CRPD Committee’s recommendations. 

In particular, 12 months on, there is no comprehensive UK-wide strategy demonstrating how the UK will implement the CRPD Committee’s recommendations. 

There has also been “continued reluctance” from the UK Government to accept the conclusions of the CRPD Committee’s inquiry report on the impact of the UK Government’s policies on the rights of disabled people. 

In May this year, the UK Government announced it was establishing a new Inter-Ministerial Group on Disability and Society.  However, it is particularly worrying that the published terms of reference for the inter-ministerial group do not refer to the CRPD or the CRPD Committee’s recommendations. Furthermore, they do not specifically provide for the effective democratic participation and involvement of disabled people’s organisations or disabled people; and also it is not clear if, and to what extent, devolved administrations are involved in the group. 

The report says that the picture emerging from the most recent evidence about disabled people’s lives remains deeply concerning. Disabled people across the UK continue to face serious regression of many of their rights.

Social protections have been reduced and disabled people and their families continue to be among of the hardest hit. More and more disabled people are finding it difficult to live independently and to be included, and participate, in their communities on an equal basis. 

There are also fears that the significant uncertainty in relation to Brexit will lead to a further deterioration of disabled people’s rights.

The lack of a devolved government in Northern Ireland is also a specific concern to that jurisdiction, because it is significantly inhibiting the relevant departments from taking the required steps. The UKIM report reiterates its view that the grave and systematic violations identified by the CRPD Committee need to be addressed and that the overall approach of the UK Government towards social security protection requires an overhaul, guided by human rights standards and principles, to ensure disabled people’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

Serious concerns about the impact of Brexit on disabled people’s human rights

A serious concern raised in the report – one which I have also raised previously – is that following the European Union (EU) referendum in June 2016, there continues to be significant uncertainty regarding the future applicability of existing human rights protections in the UK that derive from EU law. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights was excluded from the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, meaning that from ‘exit day’ it will no longer apply in domestic law. As a result, domestic protections are now more vulnerable to repeal.

The Charter goes further than the non-discrimination provisions in the Equality Act 2010 or the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Article 26 of the Charter, in particular, is a useful interpretive tool to support disabled people’s right to  independence and integration and participation in the community. 

The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 also leaves human rights protections at risk of being changed through the use of wide-ranging delegated powers. This means that changes to fundamental rights currently protected by EU law can be made by ministers through secondary legislation (statutory instruments) without being subject to full parliamentary scrutiny – which is something the Conservatives have done on a habitual basis.

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The EU is itself a party to the CRPD. Under EU law, international treaties to which the EU is party have a different status than they do under UK law. For example, EU law (unlike UK law) must be interpreted consistently with the CRPD. To ensure there is no regression, and that disabled people in the UK benefit from future progress driven by the CRPD, the UK Government should ensure these protections are incorporated into UK law, for example by giving enhanced status to the CRPD. 

The report authors also noted : “In July 2018, the Secretary of State for International Development hosted the Global Disability Summit, with representatives from disabled people’s  organisations, civil society, governments, and the private sector. The UK Government presented its new Charter for Change, which sets out 10 commitments to achieve full inclusion of disabled people.  

“Although the UK Government has repeatedly reiterated its commitment to making the CRPD a reality for all disabled people in the UK, and has claimed to be a global leader in disability rights, it has not incorporated CRPD rights into domestic law, or taken steps to implement disabled people’s rights systematically across the UK.” 

It was noted in the report that the Scottish Government has also made no formal response to the CRPD  Committee’s concluding observations falling within its devolved competence. However, the Scottish Government has set up an expert advisory group to make recommendations on ‘how Scotland can continue to lead by example in human rights, including economic, social, cultural and environmental rights’. The group will make recommendations to the First Minister before the end of December 2018.

It was also noted that the collapse of the devolved government (Northern Ireland Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive) continues. Consequently, there has been no formal response to the CRPD Committee’s concluding observations falling within devolved competence. In the absence of ministers to provide approval, the relevant devolved departments have reported difficulties in obtaining the authority and resources to action the steps required to implement the CRPD Committee’s recommendations. 

Summary of concerns related to disabled peoples’ right to live independently

CRPD Committee concluding observations in 2017, paragraph 45: ‘The Committee recommends that the State party … : recognize the right to living independently and being included in the community as a subjective right, recognize the enforceability of all its elements, and adopt rights-based policies, regulations and guidelines to ensure implementation; conduct periodic assessments in close consultation with organizations of persons with disabilities to address and prevent the negative effects of policy reforms through sufficiently funded and appropriate strategies in the area of social support and living independently; … [and] allocate sufficient resources to ensure that support services are available, accessible, affordable, acceptable, adaptable and are sensitive to different living conditions for all persons with disabilities in urban and rural areas.”

Findings

The right to live independently in the community is not recognised as a statutory right in the UK and there do not appear to be any plans to change this. The increasing demand, along with reduced funding, for social care, particularly adult social care, may be leading to a regression in disabled people’s article 19 rights to live independently in the community. The shortage of accessible and adaptable homes, and long delays in making existing homes accessible, also has a detrimental effect on the right to live independently. 

There is evidence that social care, particularly adult social care, is at crisis point across the UK and there is a chronic shortage of accessible homes, which impacts negatively on  disabled people’s right to live independently in the community. The right to live independently in the community is not recognised as a statutory right in the UK and there do not appear to be any plans to change this. 

The increasing demand, along with reduced funding, for social care, particularly adult social care, may be leading to a regression in disabled people’s article 19 rights to live independently in the community.  The shortage of accessible and adaptable  homes, and long delays in making existing homes accessible, also has a detrimental effect on the right to live independently. 

Spending for adult social care in England was budgeted to be 3% lower in 2017/18 than in 2009/10.21 As the population has grown over this period, this is equivalent to 9% lower per person, according to the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS). This means ‘fewer older and disabled people with more complexcare and support needs getting less long-term care. 

In March 2018, the EHRC started legal action against 13 clinical commissioning groups because the NHS Continuing Healthcare policies restricted funding and failed to account for individual circumstances. This may force disabled people into residential care when their preference is to remain at home. The EHRC is concerned that, in England, the closure of the Independent Living Fund and the devolution of this function to local authorities, without ring-fencing finance for this purpose, has resulted in a postcode lottery for support.  

The EHRC’s inquiry into housing for disabled people across Great Britain (GB), published in May 2018, found new evidence that disabled people face a shortage of accessible and adaptable homes and long delays in making existing homes accessible. Disabled people are not getting the support they need to live independently as the provision of advice, support and advocacy is patchy, and people report that they have nowhere to turn when their housing is unsuitable. 

The EHRC’s survey of local authorities found that just over a quarter (28%) of local authorities in GB set a percentage target for accessible housing. 

Research by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found that nearly two-thirds of placements in residential-based mental health rehabilitation services are ‘out ofarea’, and very lengthy.26 This means that individuals are usually placed far away both from home and from the local support services that should care for them once they have been discharged. 

The CQC has also reported that some patients who are subject to the Mental Health Act (MHA) 1983 continue to experience care that does not fully protect their rights or ensure their wellbeing. For example, there have been no improvements in involving patients in developing their care plans, and in making sure their views are considered in care decisions. 

Summary of concerns related to the right to an adequate standard of living and social protection (article 28)

CRPD Committee concluding observations in 2017, paragraph 59: ‘The Committee recommends that the State party … introduce, adopt and implement legislative frameworks to ensure that social protection policies and programmes across the State party secure income levels for all persons with disabilities and their families, by taking into account the additional costs relating to disability … ; carry out a cumulative impact assessment, based on disaggregated data, of the recent and forthcoming reforms of the social protection system for persons with disabilities, and in close collaboration with organizations of persons with disabilities define, implement and monitor measures to tackle retrogression in their standard of living and use the cumulative impact assessment as a basis for policy development across the State party; … [and] conduct a review of the conditionality and sanction regimes concerning the Employment and Support Allowance, and tackle the negative consequences on the mental health and situation of persons with disabilities.’

Findings 

There have been a considerable number of research projects focusing on disabled people’s standard of living and social protection. The findings of this research show the disproportionate and significantly adverse effect of welfare reform on disabled people’s rights to independent living and to an adequate standard of living and social security. 

However, the UK Government has failed to act on this evidence and to implement the CRPD Committee’s recommendations regarding these rights.  

New evidence 

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) found that 30% of people living in a household with a disabled person live in poverty, compared to 19% of those in households without a disabled person. 

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that people aged 25–54 with a longstanding illness are 50% more likely to live in poverty and deprivation than those without.

However, the gap in living standards between those with a long-standing illness and those without is likely to be an underestimate, since illness and disability are also likely to lead to higher costs of living. 

The National Audit Office (NAO) found that the Department for Work and Pensions  (DWP) has not done enough to protect and support ‘vulnerable claimants’, who have experienced difficulties and hardship during the implementation of Universal Credit. 

The UK Parliament Work and Pensions Select Committee found that, since 2013, 290,000 claimants of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and theEmployment and Support Allowance (ESA) only received the correct award after challenging the DWP’s initial decision. 

New evidence suggests that benefit sanctions have had no tangible positive effects in moving disabled people closer to paid work and that the use of sanctions may have exacerbated many disabled people’s existing illnesses and impairments, especially for those with mental health conditions. The EHRC review of recent social security reforms also indicates that sanctions: do little to change claimant motivation; encourage hostility towards support services; and worsen relationships with job centre staff. 

The Council of Europe’s Committee of Social Rights recently concluded that the UK does not conform with the right to social security under the European Social Charter because levels of statutory sick pay, minimum levels of ESA, and long-term incapacity and unemployment entitlements are lower than 40% of the median income, and ‘manifestly inadequate’. 

The EHRC’s analysis of the tax and welfare reforms introduced between May 2010 and January 2018 revealed that their cumulative impact on disabled people by the 2021/22 tax year will be significantly regressive. This is particularly so for policy decisions taken in the 2015–17 Parliament (the impacts of which are, for the most part, still to come). The findings include:

Households with at least one disabled adult and a disabled child will lose over
£6,500 a year (over 13% of their net income).

 Disabled lone parents with at least one disabled child will lose almost £10,000
of their annual net income.

 Adults with behavioural difficulties will lose around £2,350 a year.

 Adults with learning difficulties will lose around £1,750.

Adults with mental health conditions will lose just over £1,799. 

Early findings from an EHRC analysis of the cumulative impact of changes to public  spending indicate that certain groups, including people who are the most severely disabled, are affected disproportionately by public spending cuts.

The combined analysis of the public spending changes and the EHRC’s earlier report on the impact of changes to tax and welfare reforms indicates that the losses in income for households where there is a higher disability score are even greater. 

Recent research commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA) found that around 900,000 disabled people will see their weekly income fall by at least £50 a week by 2020 due to the cumulative impact of welfare reform. Under Universal Credit the average household containing a disabled person will be worse off in 2020 by £51.47 per week. 

In December 2017, the high court found that the rules brought in by the 2017 regulations that differentiate between physical and mental health issues in the award of the mobility component of PIP are unlawfully discriminatory against people with a mental health condition, in breach of the Human Rights Act 1998.

The EHRC intervened in this case and put forward its view that the rule infringed and was ‘fundamentally at odds with Article 19 CRPD’s guarantees’. The high court agreed. Subsequently, DWP announced that all 1.6 million people receiving PIP would have their claim reviewed, it would end unnecessary PIP reviews for people with the most severe health conditions, and that it is currently developing new guidance. 

Concerns have been raised by disability rights organisations over the delay in implementing the judgment pending the publication of new PIP assessment guidance.  

In June 2018, the high court found that the implementation arrangements of Universal Credit unlawfully discriminated against two severely disabled men who both saw their benefits dramatically reduced when they moved to another local authority area, and were therefore required to claim Universal Credit.

Before moving onto Universal Credit, both men were in receipt of the severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP), which were aimed at meeting the additional care needs of severely disabled people living alone with no carer. The court found that the implementation arrangements were contrary to article 14 ECHR in conjunction with article 1, protocol 1. The EHRC intervened in this case, arguing that article 14 of the ECHR, read with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), imposes positive obligations on the UK to address and remove the obstacles faced by disabled people in enjoying equal rights.

The DWP has subsequently committed to introducing changes that will ensure no severely disabled person in receipt of the SDP will be required to move onto Universal Credit until transitional protection is in place, and to compensate those who have lost out.

Summary of concerns related to the right to work and employment (article 27)

CRPD Committee concluding observations in 2017, paragraph 57: ‘The Committee recommends that the State party … develop and decide upon an effective employment policy for persons with disabilities aimed at ensuring decent work for all persons with disabilities, bearing in mind the State party’s target of 1 million jobs for persons with disabilities, and ensure equal pay for work of equal value, focusing especially on women with disabilities, persons with psychosocial and/or intellectual disabilities and persons with visual impairments, and monitor those developments; … [and] ensure that the legal and administrative requirements of the process to assess working capabilities, including the Work Capability Assessment, are in line with the human rights model of disability, that those who conduct the assessments are qualified and duly trained in that model, and that the assessments take into consideration work-related as well as other personal circumstances.’

Findings 

In the last 12 months, further information has become available on the failure of the UK to safeguard disabled people’s right to work and employment. The UK and devolved governments have announced a number of commitments to address these failings and to implement the relevant CRPD Committee’s recommendations; these commitments are welcomed.

However, concerns are already emerging regarding barriers to their effective implementation, as set out below. These include limited eligibility, funding shortfalls and lack of measurable targets. 

The UK Government has established the Inter-Ministerial Group on Disability and Society, with one of its key aims being to increase disability employment rates. But there are concerns about the practical operations of this group and the omission of a specific reference to the CRPD or the CRPD Committee’s recommendations in its terms of reference. In addition, the listed membership of the inter-ministerial group does not adequately reflect that the devolved governments also have responsibility for taking action to address the disability employment gap. Nor does the group include the participation of disabled people and allied organisations. 

While the disability employment gap has narrowed slightly since 2015, disabled people are still less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people. Disabled people in the UK are paid less on average than non-disabled people.

A recent TUC report found that the disability pay gap (15%) was higher in 2016/17 than in 2013/14, 2014/15 or 2015/16.  It found that, in 2017, the average hourly pay for disabled workers was £9.90, compared with £11.40 for non-disabled workers – resulting in a disability pay gap of £2,730 per year. The TUC also reports that disabled workers are more likely to work in lower-paid occupations than non-disabled workers. Across the UK, there is no requirement on public or private employers to publish information on disability pay gaps.

Summary of concerns related to prejudice and negative attitudes (articles 8 and 16)

CRPD Committee inquiry recommendations 2016, paragraph 114 (h): Take appropriate measures to combat any negative and discriminatory stereotypes or prejudice against persons with disabilities in public and the media, including the assertion that dependency on benefits is in itself a disincentive to seeking employment, implement broad mass media campaigns, in consultation with organizations representing persons with disabilities, particularly those affected by the welfare reform, to promote them as full rights holders, in accordance with the Convention; and adopt measures to address complaints of harassment and hate crime by persons with disabilities, promptly investigate those allegations, hold the perpetrators accountable and provide fair and appropriate compensation to victims.’

Findings

The extensive data available indicate that progress to date is insufficient and, therefore not in line with the CRPD Committee’s recommendations. Prejudice towards disabled people persists. This includes negative attitudes towards disabled people claiming social security benefits and negative assumptions about disabled people’s human value
and quality of life.

New evidence 

In 2017, 75% of students in secondary schools and colleges with autism and Asperger’s syndrome, and 70% of those with a physical disability said they had been bullied compared with 50% of students with no disability. 

Research examining prejudice faced by disabled people found that 32% of disabled people felt there was a lot of disability-related prejudice, but only 22% of nondisabled people thought this was the case. This indicates a gap between the reality of disabled people’s lives and the public’s perception. The study also found evidence that ‘paternalist’ attitudes about disabled people are still prevalent:

 75% of the study’s respondents thought disabled people need to be cared for some or most of the time.

 13% tended to ‘hardly ever’ or ‘never’ think of disabled people as the same as everyone else

In a related study of disabled people, national disability charity Scope found that:

 40% of all respondents indicated that they did not feel valued by society

 49% responded that they feel excluded from society because of their long-term impairment or health condition, and

 42% felt the UK is a good place for disabled people to live.

The police registered 5,558 disability-motivated hate crime cases in England and Wales in 2016/17. This is a 53% increase since 2015/16 (though this significant increase may be partly a reflection of improvements in reporting). Recent research suggests a significant drop-off between the number of cases recorded by the police and the number of prosecutions. Estimates from the Crime Survey for England and Wales indicate an average of 67,000 cases of disability hate crime per yearThe UK Parliament Petitions Select Committee led an inquiry into the online abuse of disabled people, which reported in August 2018.

The Committee produced draft recommendations for consultation, including that: social media companies should be required to ensure their policies and processes are accessible to, and developed in partnership with, disabled people; and that the UK Government commit to introducing new legislation covering online communications by 2020, reflecting findings from the ongoing Law Commission review of the current legal framework. 

UKIM is not aware of any actions to address the main concerns of the CRPD Committee and to combat any negative and discriminatory stereotypes or prejudice against disabled people among the public and in the media. In particular, there have been no steps taken to tackle the negative attitudes towards those claiming social security benefits, and, more broadly, to promote the human rights model of disability.

On the contrary, there are examples of government comments and negative role-modeling that have potentially reinforced negative attitudes and the stigma surrounding mental health and disability.

This includes the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, stating before a committee of the UK Parliament: ‘It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce, including far higher levels of participation by marginal groups and very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people – something we should be extremely proud of – may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements.’

It’s evident that many people understood this statement as indicating that the increase in disabled people in employment is partly responsible for the UK’s decreasing productivity.

Concerns regarding Access to justice (articles 12 and 13)

CRPD Committee inquiry recommendations in 2016, paragraph 114 (f): ‘‘Ensure access to justice by providing appropriate legal advice and support,including through reasonable and procedural accommodation for persons with disabilities seeking redress and reparation for the alleged violation of their rights, as covered in the present report.’

Findings

Overall there has been little progress on the UK’s implementation of the relevant CRPD Committee recommendations. In the UK, education tribunals are not able to award financial compensation where there has been a finding of disability discrimination or harassment. Despite newly revised guidance, there is no formal system of support in court for people with mental health conditions and learning disabilities in place across the UK.  

There are continuing barriers to accessing justice, for example in relation to social  security cases. There has been a substantial decrease in the number of disabled people being granted legal aid in the wake of the legal aid reforms introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). 

The removal of welfare benefits law from the scope of legal aid has exacerbated the impact of recent welfare reforms, which is likely to have affected disabled people disproportionately. 

People entitled to disability benefits relied on legal aid to support appeals of incorrect decisions and to provide a valuable check on decision-making concerning eligibility for welfare benefits.

New evidence 

Independent research suggests there is poor and inconsistent use of reasonable adjustments in the criminal justice system for defendants with mental health conditions and learning disabilities. 

Particular concern has been raised about the underuse of defendant intermediaries to aid comprehension and participation during criminal justice proceedings. 

Deaf people using an interpreter continue to be denied the opportunity to carry out jury service in courts. Although, since 1999, the UK Government has repeatedly indicated its commitment to address the issue in England and Wales, there have been no changes to date. The EHRC is providing legal assistance in a case involving a deaf man who was told he was not required for jury service after disclosing that he was deaf.

Concerns related to involving disabled people and their organisations (articles 4(3) and 33(3))

CRPD Committee inquiry recommendations 2016, paragraph 114 (g): ‘Actively consult and engage with persons with disabilities through their representative organizations and give due consideration to their views in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of any legislation, policy or programme action related to the rights addressed in the present report.’

Findings 

There is a continued lack of action from the UK and devolved governments on the CRPD Committee’s recommendations. This includes setting up systems that will ensure that disabled people and their organisations are involved in the design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of legislation, policy or programmes that affect their lives.  

It remains unclear how the new Inter-Ministerial Group on Disability and Society will work with disabled people and their organisations, and UKIM, to promote and monitor implementation of UN CRPD. It is particularly concerning that the UN CRPD’s requirement to effectively involve disabled people and their organisations is not specifically reflected in the inter-ministerial group’s terms of reference. Nor do
the terms of reference refer to the CRPD or the CRPD committee’s recommendations.  

The Office for Disability Issues (ODI) stated in its State Party report in September 2018 that it had increased its efforts to engage with disabled people and their organisations in recent months, including by creating a new role of stakeholder manager. However, this does not seem to have translated into a publicly available engagement plan or any concrete activities to date.

Dissemination of concluding observations and inquiry findings (article 36)

CRPD Committee concluding observations 2017, paragraph 77: ‘The Committee requests the State party to disseminate the present concluding observations widely, including to non-governmental organizations and organizations of persons with disabilities, and to persons with disabilities themselves and members of their families, in national and minority languages, including sign language, and in accessible formats, including Easy Read, and to make them available on the government website on human rights.’

Findings

There has been little progress regarding the UK and devolved governments’ dissemination of the CRPD Committee’s concluding observations and inquiry findings  Dissemination of the CRPD Committee’s concerns and recommendations by the UK Government and efforst to raise awareness have been minimal.

Neither the concluding observations nor the inquiry report have been published on the UK Government’s website, only its own State Party reports. The CRPD Committee’s reports have also not been made available in accessible formats, including easy read, as requested by the CRPD Committee. The EHRC has published the concluding observations and reproduced them in accessible formats. 

UKIM’s experience is that the UK governments tend to put more energy into reporting to, and examination by, the UN, and less into the follow-up of UN concluding observations. Therefore, one of UKIM’s continuing challenges is to develop and maintain momentum for implementation of UN human rights treaties, including the CRPD. 

Recommendations 

UKIM reiterates its recommendations made to the CRPD Committee during the examination process in August 2017. This list includes all recommendations relevant to the issues covered in this report.

Where necessary, these recommendations have been updated to reflect changes in the policy context and the emergence of new evidence.

The right to live independently in the community (article 19) – independent living funding

The UK Government should act upon the recommendation of the Work and Pensions Select Committee to set out a clear plan for identifying where new Employment and Support Allowance work-related activity group claimants have additional, unavoidable living costs relating to their condition, and ensure a financial support package is in place to adequately support all new claimants looking for, and moving into, work. 

The UK Government should take swift action to reform the work capability assessment to offer a more flexible, personalised approach to providing support to unemployed disabled people, including those with the greatest needs and fluctuating conditions. The focus should be on identifying work potential and the types of adjustments and support that could remove barriers to individuals accessing and staying in work.

This should be separate from any financial assessment. Financial support for people unable to work, or where there are inadequate adjustments or personalised support in place, should not be conditional on actions linked to jobseeking or subject to benefit sanctions. 

The UK Government must take steps to ensure compliance with CRPD article 19 where it has delegated responsibility for independent living funding to local authorities in England. These steps should include:

providing sufficient funding to each local authority to meet the independent living needs of disabled people in their area through mechanisms (such as ring fencing)
that ensure the funding is used for that purpose

 providing guidance to local authorities to clarify what they must do to meet the
requirements of article 19, including examples of best practice, and

 putting in place a monitoring mechanism so that each local authority reports on
independent living funding and activities, and service-user experience, so the  UK Government can assure itself that it is complying with article 19.

The right to an adequate standard of living and social protection (article 28) – poverty, material deprivation and food insecurity 

The UK and devolved governments should examine the factors behind the higher levels of poverty among disabled adults and children and develop strategies to address these factors. The UK and devolved governments should ensure the rights of disabled people, including disabled children, are prioritised within anti-poverty strategies. 

The UK Government should act on the findings of the July 2017 Trussell Trust report on food bank use, in particular the conclusion that an inquiry into the support and  sufficiency of benefit allowances for disabled people is needed, especially in light of 
new reforms which may have a further negative impact.

Updated UK-wide recommendations: 

The UK Government should monitor and publish the impact of welfare reforms on disabled people. This should include assessments of the cumulative impact of taxand social security changes and public spending reductions on disabled people. 

In relation to existing social security entitlement and any future reforms, the UK Government should address the UN criteria for non-retrogression to determine whether potentially regressive measures are temporary, necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory, and that they do not undercut a core minimum level of protection, putting in place any mitigating measures required to safeguard disabled people’s rights. 

To mitigate some of the adverse impacts on disabled people, the UK Government should: 

 uprate all benefits in line with inflation and review the level of benefits to ensure
this meets adequate living standards

 reinstate the level of work allowance to the 2012 level

 reinstate the severe and enhanced disability premiums under Universal Credit

 provide increased support to disabled people placed in the Employment and Support Allowance work-related activity group that is equivalent to the support group and acknowledges the additional, unavoidable living costs relating to their condition

all full-time disabled students who receive DLA or PIP should be eligible for Universal Credit on the grounds of being treated as having a limited capability for work

 carry out an equality impact assessment of the conditionality and sanctions system on claimants to ensure that sanctions are not disproportionately applied, and that conditionality is reasonable and based on flexibility of easements, specifically for lone parent families, ethnic minority groups and disabled people

 introduce publicly available service standards for the social security system that set out the rights of claimants, are fair and accessible, and measured and reported on

 ensure that work coaches are trained to deliver tailored employment support, providing evidence of the steps taken to ensure that the specific needs of lone parents and disabled people are being met.

The right to work and employment (article 27) – employment gaps and barriers

Updated UK-wide recommendations 

The UK and devolved governments should evaluate how well employment support programmes help disabled people find and stay in work, and take steps to improve their effectiveness. This should include a regular and transparent evaluation of progress made on the UK Government’s ‘Improving lives: the future of work, health and disability’ strategy (November 2017) to ensure progress is seen as a shared, long-term, priority objective across all relevant Government departments.

The UK Government should:

 Introduce interim targets and a statutory reporting requirement on its commitment to a target of one million more disabled people in work over the next 10 years

 report regularly on progress, including by impairment group, and identify steps if progress is insufficient.

The UK Government should ensure that changes to the Access to Work programme comply with article 27 by:

 widening support for mental health and complex health or medical conditions

 monitoring any adverse impact on employment opportunities, for disabled people generally and for people with sensory impairments specifically 

 introducing mitigations such as additional funding flexibilities, and extending transition arrangements, and 

 putting in place a publicity programme for the Access to Work scheme among employers to increase awareness. 

To help remove barriers to recruitment and retention of disabled people, the UK Government should build training on disability law and providing reasonable adjustments into new models of support resulting from the ‘Improving lives’ strategy.

The right to work and employment (article 27) – pay gap

Updated UK-wide recommendations

By April 2019 UK governments should: 

 provide clear and country-appropriate guidance on the classification system to be used for disability monitoring by all types of organisations and practical guidance for different types/sizes of employers on how to collect, report on and use the data.

Once consistent classification, collection and reporting systems are in place to support employers to use employment data effectively, the UK Government should: 

require private, voluntary and listed public sector employers with 250+ employees to monitor and report on disability in recruitment, retention and progression within the workplace by April 2020 

require private, voluntary and listed public employers to publish a narrative and action plan with time-bound targets, informed by analysis of their disability data. 

This analysis should help explain the factors underlying the data and focus on
how to make substantive improvements to the workplace.

Prejudice and negative attitudes (article 8)

The UK and devolved governments should: 

 resource long-term positive awareness-raising campaigns, training and education to address prejudice and negative attitudes towards all disabled people, including those with mental health conditions and those claiming social security benefits 

 ensure that government communications do not fuel prejudicial views, particularly with regard to the rights of disabled people claiming social security benefits, and 

 ensure that there is awareness of the CRPD among disabled people, public service providers, and throughout society

Disability-motivated hate crime, hostility and harassment (articles 8 and 16) 

To address under-reporting of disability-motivated hate crime, the UK and devolved governments should ensure that the police and other statutory agencies evaluate their reporting and recording processes, in consultation with disabled people, and take steps to simplify them. 

The UK and devolved governments should employ consistent data collection methods across countries, the criminal justice system and within individual agencies to allow comparative and chronological analysis.

The UK Government should:

 undertake without delay a full-scale review of the aggravated offences and enhanced sentencing provisions to ensure parity for all characteristics protected under hate crime law

 monitor the use of sentencing guidelines to assess consistency in sentencing across all hate crime strands 

 conduct a review of the provision of third-party reporting of hate crime in England and Wales; evaluate the impact and sustainability of provision; highlight geographical and thematic gaps; and ensure third-party and police recording systems are consistent  

 ensure the police, Crown Prosecution Service and probation services adopt and publish a single, clear definition of a disability hate crime and communicate it effectively to the public and staff.

Access to justice (articles 12 and 13) – legal aid and advice

Updated England and Wales recommendations  

In its review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) in 2018, the UK Government should consider the full range of evidence available on the impact of legal aid changes on people with certain protected characteristics. It should identify whether there have been disproportionate impacts on particular groups that may have limited their access to justice, and the availability of legal advice from non-government organisations, and take effective steps to mitigate those impacts. Those responsible for the review should seek input from disabled people, wider civil society and the EHRC. 

The UK Government should further review the operation of the telephone gateway service (Civil Legal Advice) in England and Wales with regard to its accessibility  and effectiveness, particularly for disabled people and parents of children with special  educational needs (SEN), and mitigate any adverse impacts.

Access to justice (articles 12 and 13) – court and employment tribunals

Updated England and Wales recommendations  

In light of the Supreme Court judgment on employment tribunal fees and the fundamental rights underpinning the court’s reasoning, the UK Government should not introduce any new barriers to accessing employment tribunals, and should reaffirm its commitment to ensuring equal access to justice for all. 

The UK Government should ensure that all those who paid employment tribunal fees are reimbursed, and take steps to ensure anyone who was deterred from bringing claims because of fees has not been disadvantaged.

We also recommend that the UK Government:

does not proceed with any court closures until it has collected the evidence about court users necessary to conduct a meaningful equality impact assessment, and has conducted that assessment

conducts a thorough assessment of the digital literacy of court users in order to determine the nature and content of the support required to ensure access to justice in the context of increased digitisation, and

establishes a clear evidence base setting out the impacts of virtual processes (including virtual hearings and online court processes) and the equality and human rights issues that need to be addressed before any new measures are introduced or existing pilots are extended.

Access to justice (articles 12 and 13) – disability discrimination in schools

The UK should allow education tribunals to award financial compensation for disability discrimination or harassment in schools.

 

There are more detailed recommendations in Annex 2  – from page 62 of the report and onwards.

You can read the report in full here

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John McDonnell attacks Tory disability cuts and vows to address suicides linked to welfare reforms

Comradely? Labour leadership says nothing untoward about local parties expressing concern about sitting MPs

On Wednesday I am travelling down to Westminster. I have been invited to attend a meeting chaired by Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell. Welfare experts, researchers and campaigners are to contribute to a new drive to expose the mental health impacts and other harms linked with the government’s controversial reforms, such as the Work Capability (WCA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments.

We will also explore and identify the wider impacts of the government’s Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) policies on the economy and society. 

The Labour party is committed to scrapping the fundamnetally flawed assessments, and have placed equalities at the centre of Labour party economic research through cross-departmental and multi-disciplinary collaboration. A Labour government will also undertake a specific stock-take of welfare policy and benefit sanctions to address the rising number of suicides, which have soared in recent years. The Labour party have said that they will place equalities at the centre of Labour’s economic research through cross-departmental and multi-disciplinary collaboration.

Speaking to the Huffington Post, the shadow chancellor says that he became furious during a Parliamentary debate when he demanded a comprehensive assessment of the cumulative impact of welfare reforms on disabled people and the government refused. He praised the website Calum’s List, which details the cases of at least 60 deaths linked to welfare cuts.

He added: We said to the Government we know now from Calum’s List, listing people from reports in the press and elsewhere of people committing suicide as a result of Government cuts.

We knew the Government were monitoring some coroners’ reports and we wanted them published, [then DWP minister Esther] McVey wouldn’t and I got really angry.”

“Next week, what we are doing is getting a group of campaigning organisations and a group of experts together to talk about the way in which Work Capability Assessments are still having an impact, to try to get to the bottom in terms of mental health and suicide.”

McDonnell added that Labour’s first Queen’s Speech include legislation “making sure we have a welfare and benefit system that lifts people out of poverty”.

He said that his Hayes and Harlington constituency casework now operates an open-door system four days a week due to demand from people hit by government cuts. 

He added: “Helen who runs my office said the casework now is on a scale and a depth of suffering that we’ve never seen before. And this in a constituency with the [Heathrow] airport, high levels of employment but wages not matching the housing costs and the pressure on people working all hours just to keep a roof over their heads.

“If anything goes wrong they fall out of the system. Last month we were dealing with two families living in cars. We also have the ‘beds in sheds’ phenomenon, families living in a shed or garage rented out to them, it’s staggering really.

“Before this last eight years, those sort of horrendous situations would be infrequent but you wouldn’t have someone so heavily sanctioned. The sanctions often impact on people with mental health conditions hardest.”

The Labour party’s track record of inclusion and democratic consultation with disabled citizens and their communities contrasts starkly with the Conservative’s exclusionary ‘we know better than you’ approach to disability policies. The government have imposed cuts on disabled people, acting upon them as if they are objects of policy rather than being citizens within a democracy.  

Government policies are expressed political intentions regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences. In democratic societies, citizens’ accounts of the impacts of policies ought to matter.

However, in the UK, the way that welfare policies are justified is being increasingly detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the government employs the widespread use of linguistic strategies and techniques of persuasion to intentionally divert us from their aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies. Furthermore, policies have more generally become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

McDonnell was involved in the setting up of Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC). Furthermore, after a nationwide round of consultations with disabled people about policies which enshrine the Equality and Human Rights acts, led by Debbie Abrahams, the Labour party wrote a manifesto, outlining policies for disabled people, called Nothing about you without you .

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Alex Cunningham, me, Debbie Abrahams and Gail Ward after the Disability Equality Roadshow in December, 2016.

The government have persistently refused to acknowledge that there is a ‘causal link’ between their punitive welfare policy programme – which has seen vulnerable citizens, including many disabled people, lose their lifeline support – and has been correlated with the rise in distress, suicides, harm and premature mortality among ill and disabled people in particular.

The correlation has consistently been recognised by disabled citizens, and evidenced by researchers, charities and disabled peoples’ organisations over the last few years. Although correlation is not the same thing as ‘causation’, it quite often implies a causal relationship. The problem is that the government have simply refused to investigate the established association further, choosing to simply deny the established link exists instead. That is completely unacceptable. 

Without further investigation of the many concerns raised, the government have no evidence whatsoever to verify their own claims of there being ‘no causal link’ precisely because they consistently refuse to conduct an inquiry regarding the established correlation between policies and harm, or to undertake a cumulative impact assessment of those policies. 

The UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons (CRPD) says (in article four) that governments must, in implementing the convention, “closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities… through their representative organizations”. It also says (article 33) that “civil society, in particular persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, shall be involved and participate fully” in monitoring the implementation of the convention in each country. In July, Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, refused to meet a coalition of disabled people’s organisations, in an apparent breach of the UN disability convention.

At the very least, Newton shows no inclination whatsoever to listen to the accounts of the lived experiences of disabled people, nor does she value a democratic dialogue with us. That is profoundly worrying.

In July, the Shadow Disabilities Minister, Marsha De Cordova, also once again raised in parliament the fact that the United Nations (UN) had found “grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights” in the UK.

The Labour MP added: “This government’s policies have created a hostile environment causing grave violations on disabled people.”

Newton responded by claiming “it’s ‘not true’ that disabled people face a hostile environment.” She also asked the opposition not to say “things” that they “know are not true”. 

The United Nations (UN) and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission have already verified the truth of the statements, presented many times by Labour shadow ministers, disability charities and disabled people to an indifferent government. 

However, the Conservatives have a track record of denying empirical findings that don’t match their predetermined and ideological expectations. They simply deny and dismiss any criticism of their  discriminatory policies. Damian Green, the Work and Pensions Secretary at the time of the UN inquiry report, famously claimed that cuts to support for disabled people did “not necessarily mean worse outcomes.” That is a bit of a climb down to previous claims from the government that cuts to lifeline support for disabled people ‘help’ them into work by removing the ‘perverse incentives’ of provision. 

In July, in a rather frightening and repressive, authoritarian outburst, Newton went on to claim that the opposition’s comments were “dangerous” and “deter” people who need support from claiming it. However, it is government policies that are dangerous, and that have created a series of ordeals and barriers in the assessment process, designed to weight the assessments towards permitting the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to refuse people support.

Much of Newton’s response to legitimate criticism entails rationalisation techniques that are designed to undermine the credibility of the accounts of others and especially that of the narrator by editing the narrative, and presenting an alternative order of events. More broadly, the right wing media took up this role on behalf of the government, in scapegoating and stigmatising disabled people and others who need social security support, in advance of the welfare reform act. By portraying disabled people as ‘fakes’, ‘scroungers’ and as an ‘economic burden’, this rhetoric was designed to create folk devils, and to justify punitive cuts to ‘undeserving’ disabled people. 

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Image result for negative media portrayals of disabled people

Many of us have been through the ordeals that claiming ESA entails and then faced further ordeals confronting mandatory reconsideration and appeal.Many of us have been deterred from claiming PIP. That was my own experience too. Despite needing PIP from 2011, I couldn’t face claiming PIP until I really had to. I put it off for seven years because my experience of the ESA assessments was so horrible and distressing, it made me seriously ill, because the stress exacerbated my symptoms. (I have lupus).  My local authority supported me with the claim when they provided aids and adaptations to help my mobility in my home.

Conservative ministers conveniently overlook the fact that many disabled people have worked and contributed to the UK’s  social security provision via tax and through the national insurance system. I worked for many years until I became too ill to do so in 2010. 

Newton went on to say: “We have very strong protections for people with disabilities in our country.”

Newton even had the cheek to cite Labour’s Equality Act as a ‘protection’ for disabled people, as if it was the Conservatives who designed this policy. This is same Act that the government has violated over and over because of their welfare ‘reforms’ and austerity programme. This protection was brought about by the last Labour government, which also included the Human Rights Act, and signing the UK up to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) – an international human rights treaty intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.

The UK’s established human rights and equality frameworks have been methodically ignored by this government, who decided to target disabled people with a significantly disproportionate burden of their ideological austerity programme. The UN found that the Conservatives’ treatment of disabled people gravely and systematically violates our human rights. The evidence gathered by the UN came from disabled people’s accounts (including mine) and those of disability organisations, academic researchers and charities.

This is a government that has systematically marginalised disabled people economically  socially and politically, sidestepping human rights and equality legal frameworks. Apparently the government doesn’t regard democratic accountability to disabled people as particularly important. Instead, ministers simply lie and deny other people’s experiences and accounts. 

Newton also shamefully suggested people losing their motability cars, scooters and wheelchairs should complain to the Motability charity – not the government. It’s not the charity that are creating a hostile environment for disabled people, carrying out assessments that are absolutely unfit for purpose. It is not the charity’s fault that assessments are inaccurate and designed to ensure as few people as possible are given a full PIP award.

This is a repressive, opaque, unaccountable and profoundly undemocratic government that simply refuse to accept any responsibility for the consequences of their own actions.

If the government genuinely believed that there is no causal link whatsoever between their cuts, extremely punitive policies and the distress, harm, increased suicide rate and deaths of disabled people, surely the way to provide evidence of their claim is to permit an independent investigation, and to undertake a thorough cumulative assessment of their policies.

Instead, it seems blunt denials and techniques of neutralisation are the government’s prefered response to legitimate criticism and serious concerns regarding the welfare and wellbeing of disabled people in the UK. 

Techniques of neutralisation: 

These are strategies often used to switch off the conscience when someone plans or has done something to cause harm to others. They most often entail rationalisations of denial.

The idea of techniques of neutralisation was first proposed by criminologists David Matza and Gresham Sykes during their work on Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association in the 1950s. Matza and Sykes were working on juvenile delinquency, they theorised that the same techniques could be found throughout society and published their ideas in Delinquency and Drift, 1964.

They identified the following psychological techniques by which, they believed, delinquents justified ‘illegitimate’ or morally unacceptable actions, and Alexander Alverez further identified these methods used at a socio-political and psychological level in Nazi Germany to attempt to “justify” the Holocaust:

1. Denial of responsibility. The offender(s) will propose that they were victims of circumstance or were forced into situations beyond their control.

2. Denial of harm and injury. The offender insists that their actions did not cause any harm or damage.

3. Denial of the victim. The offender believes that the victim deserved whatever action the offender committed. Or they may claim that there isn’t a victim.

4. Condemnation of the condemners. The offenders maintain that those who condemn their offence are doing so purely out of spite, ‘scaremongering’ or they are shifting the blame from themselves unfairly. 

5. Appeal to higher loyalties. The offender suggests that his or her offence was for the ‘greater good’, with long-term consequences that would justify their actions, such as protection of a social group/nation, or benefits to the economy/ social group/nation.

6. Disengagement and Denial of Humanity is a category that Alverez added to the techniques formulated by Sykes and Matza because of its special relevance to the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews and other non-Aryans as subhuman. A process of social division, scapegoating and dehumanisation was explicitly orchestrated by the government.

This also very clearly parallels Gordon Allport’s work on explaining how prejudice arises, how it escalates, often advancing by almost inscrutable degrees, pushing at normative and moral boundaries until the unthinkable becomes tenable. This stage on the scale of social prejudice may ultimately result in genocide.

Any one of these six techniques may serve to encourage violence by neutralising the norms against prejudice and aggression to the extent that when they are all implemented together, as they apparently were under the Nazi regime, a society can seemingly forget its normative rules, moral values and laws in order to engage in wholesale prejudice, discrimination, exclusion of citizens, hatred and ultimately, in genocide. 

I’m not comparing what is happening to disabled people in the UK with the Holocaust, though it is worth noting that disabled people were among the first group that were murdered by the Nazis. What I am saying is the techniques used to exclude, and to normalise the political oppression of a group, are the same. They are also used as a form of ‘norm default setting’ to desenisitise the public to the circumstances and experiences of groups being politically targeted with discriminatory and oppressive treatment. 

In accusing citizens and the opposition of ‘scaremongering’, the Conservatives are denying responsibility for the consequences of their policies, denying harm, denying  distress; denying the victims and condemning the condemners.

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Suicide is a complex issue and our sympathies are always with those left behind, but it’s misleading to link it to welfare reforms.

“We continually review and make improvements where needed, for example strengthening the Work Capability Assessment service by stopping reassessments for those with the most severe and lifelong conditions, and introducing video recording in PiP assessments.

 “We are committed to ensuring people get the support they need, and to improving lives. Decisions for PiP and ESA are made following consideration of all the evidence, including from someone’s doctor or medical specialist. Meanwhile sanctions are only applied in a small minority of cases when someone fails to meet their agreed requirements.”

Earlier this week the government stressed that it was committed to ensuring that disabled people get the support they need. 

We don’t agree.

For many of us, the government’s approach to social security has become random, controlling and an unremitting Orwellian trial. 

 


 

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This Government Is No World Leader On Disability – Its Record Is Shameful

This article was written by Marsha de Cordova, who is the Labour MP for Battersea, on 24 July. It was originally published in the HuffPost.

At today’s Global Disability Summit, the government will present itself as a leader on disability rights – disabled people know that it is anything but.

Today the government will host the Global Disability Summit in London but the Tories are no world leaders on disability rights – their record is abysmal.

The government’s hypocrisy is no more clearly demonstrated than in the fact that the Secretary of State hosting the summit – which is aimed at guaranteeing “the rights, freedoms, dignity and inclusion” of disabled people – is Penny Mordaunt, who was herself minister for disabled people when a UN report found that the government had violated disabled people’s rights. 

The UN published this report two years ago, after the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had taken the unprecedented step of investigating one of its signatories – the UK government – for breaching its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The committee’s findings were unambiguous: The government had caused “grave and systematic” violations of disabled people’s rights. The committee chair described austerity as having led to a “human catastrophe” for disabled people.

These judgements were hardly news to the millions of disabled people who had been struggling under government policies.

The hypocrisy of the government is staggering. The Minister for Disabled People recently had the audacity to claim that she was “utterly committed” to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”, yet the government is still yet to even provide a detailed response to the UN Committee’s more than 80 recommendations, and it rejected the UN’s damning judgement out of hand.

This hypocrisy is starkly evident in the summit’s “Charter for Change”, which takes as its cornerstone the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Since the Secretary of State overseeing the summit was a former Minister for Disabled People in a government that was condemned by the UN for breaking that convention, how can she talk with a straight face to world leaders and disabled people’s organisations about this?

The charter includes 10 commitments for participants to agree to, 8 of which the government has itself clearly violated (and one of which is empty posturing).

For example, it calls on countries to commit to “gather and use better data and evidence to understand and address the scale, and nature, of challenges faced by persons with disabilities”.

Yet one of the major recommendations from the committee is for the government to carry out a cumulative impact assessment of its tax and social security changes since 2010, something the government has stubbornly refused to do.

We know this can be done – the Equality and Human Rights Commission has done it, finding that those changes had a particularly damaging impact on disabled people.

Another call of the charter is for countries to “eliminate stigma and discrimination through legislation”. This will sound like a bad joke to the estimated 220,000 disabled people wrongly denied social security support due to what the High Court called “blatantly discriminatory” changes to Personal Independence Payments.

The charter concludes with a commitment to “hold ourselves and others to account for the promises we have made here today.” For this commitment to be made by Mordaunt’s department – under whose watch the government excused itself from promises it was committed to as part of the UN Convention – beggars belief. 

This government treats disabled people with disdain and contempt. From the Bedroom Tax to swingeing cuts to Personal Independence Payments, government cuts have been felt most acutely by those already struggling.

The Department for Work and Pensions charge sheet of failures is long, including an “error” that led to more than 70,000 ill and disabled people being underpaid thousands in Employment and Support Allowance, with what a public accounts committee recently described as a “culture of indifference” leading to it taking six years for this error to begin to be corrected.

The government’s Work Capability Assessments, carried out by profit-driven private companies, have been linked to a dramatic increase in the number of disabled people attempting suicide.

At the Global Disability Summit, the government will try to present itself as a world leader on disability rights. But disabled people know that it is anything but.

Let us remind them of the verdict of the United Nations: “Grave and systematic” rights violations, a “human catastrophe” for disabled people.

On behalf of all those disabled people whose voices have been ignored, we cannot and will not let the government escape the truth. Their record on disability rights shames this country.

Related

A few thoughts on the implications of the United Nations report

 


 

I write voluntarily, and do the best I can to raise awareness of political and social issues. In particular I research and write about how policy impacts on citizen wellbeing and human rights. I also co-run a group on Facebook to support other disabled people going through ESA and PIP assessments, mandatory reviews and appeals.

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled and don’t have any paid employment. But you can contribute by making a donation and help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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EHRC report highlights unacceptable political discrimination against disabled people

 

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Discrimination on the grounds of disability was made illegal 20 years ago when Parliament passed the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Further legislative progress was made with the Human Rights Act (2008) and the Equality Act (2010). So discrimination can’t happen now. Right?

Wrong.

Disabled people are not being treated as being equal with other citizens and continue to be denied the respect, dignity, opportunities, an acceptable standard of living and other acceptable outcomes that non-disabled people take for granted.

The government claim that the economy has recovered from the effects of the global recession, but that recovery is not one that is shared equally to include everyone. If the economy is doing as well as the government claims, why are disabled people still facing austerity cuts to their lifeline support, while wealthy citizens are handed out substantial tax cuts? 

In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, targeting disabled people, who are much more likely to be living in poverty than other citizens, is absolutely inexcusable. However, the neoliberal right justify their rigid small state, pro-privatisation, deregulation, mythological meritocracy, low tax, high VAT and antiwelfare ideology with folklore economics. “Paying down the debt” has become an almost farcical bare-faced and parroted Conservative lie. 

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The neoliberal small state “big society”.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission report is the most comprehensive analysis on how (or if) the rights of disabled people are observed and protected in Great Britain. The most recent report says that changes to benefit rules have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on disabled people’s right to live independently.

According to the report, titled Disability report: Being disabled in Britainwhich was published on Monday, the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people. (See also: Disabled students fear for their future as independence payments cut).

Fewer than half of disabled adults are in employment (47.6%), compared with almost 80% of non-disabled adults – and the gap between these groups has widened since 2010-11.

Food poverty has affected 18.4% of disabled people aged 16-64, compared with 7.5% of non-disabled people.

David Isaac, Chair of the Commission, commenting on the damning new state of the nation report into life for disabled people, said: “Whilst at face value we have travelled far, in reality disabled people are being left behind in society, their life chances remain very poor, and public attitudes have changed very little.

“This evidence can no longer be ignored. Now is the time for a new national focus on the rights of the thirteen million disabled people who live in Britain. They must have the same rights, opportunities and respect as other citizens.

“We must put the rights of disabled people at the heart of our society. We cannot, and must not, allow the next twenty years to be a repeat of the past.”

The research, which covers six key areas of life, finds that disabled people in Britain are experiencing disadvantages in all of them, and sets out vital areas for urgent improvement.

This includes: a lack of equal opportunities in education and employment; barriers to access to transport, health services and housing; the persistent and widening disability pay gap; deteriorating access to justice; and welfare “reforms” (cuts) significantly affecting the already low living standards of disabled people.

The Commission has also highlighted these issues to the United Nations, for their forthcoming examination of how the UK measures up to the international standards on the rights of disabled people (the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities – CRPD).

The United Nations (UN) has already determined that the UK government has systematically violated the rights of disabled people. The highly critical report, which was published in Geneva last December also concluded that the rights of disabled people to live independently, to work, and achieve an adequate standard of living have been detrimentally affected by the Conservative’s austerity programme.

The range of measures aimed at reducing public spending since 2010, including extremely controversial changes such as the bedroom tax, and cuts to disability benefits and social care budgets have disproportionately and adversely affected disabled people.

The UN’s 22-page report condemned the radical and largely unmonitored welfare cuts and benefit caps, and social care cuts introduced as a major part of the Conservative’s austerity programme – the government claimed these cuts would make the welfare system “fairer and reduce benefit fraud.” The UN found no evidence of benefit fraud or fairness.

However, the government have simply dismissed the UN’s fully evidenced report, which included the first-hand accounts of many of those disabled people affected by Conservative austerity, disability campaigners, researchers and advocacy organisations.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission report reveals:

  • In England, the proportion of children with Special Educational Needs achieving at least  5 A*-C GCSEs is three times lower than for non-disabled children (20.0% and 64.2% respectively). Disabled children are also significantly more likely to be permanently or temporarily excluded.
  • The qualification gap between disabled and non-disabled people has narrowed, but the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people, and the proportion of disabled people with a degree remained lower. 
  • More disabled people than non-disabled are living in poverty or are materially deprived. 
  • Social security “reforms” have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on the rights to independent living and an adequate standard of living for disabled people. Families in the UK with a disabled member are more likely to live in relative poverty than non-disabled families.
  • Across the UK, 18.4% of disabled people aged 16-64 were considered to be in food poverty compared with 7.5% of non-disabled people. Disabled people over the age of 65 were twice as likely as non-disabled people in the same age group to be in food poverty.
  • Disabled people continue to face problems in finding adequate housing, due to a shortage in accessible housing across Britain, and in Scotland the amount of wheelchair-adapted local authority housing for physically disabled people has decreased. Disabled people in Britain were also less likely to own their own home. 
  • Accessing healthcare services is problematic for disabled people, and they’re less likely to report positive experiences. Considerable shortcomings remain in all three countries in the provision of mental health services, where disabled adults are more likely to report poor mental health and wellbeing than non-disabled adults.
  • There is an urgent need for prisons to monitor and report on prisoner mental health. Prisoners are more likely to have mental health conditions compared with the general population, and 70% of prisoners who died from self-inflicted means between 2012 and 2014 had an identified mental health condition. 
  • Detentions in health and social care settings under the Mental Health Act 1983 are continuing to increase in England and Wales. The number of detentions in hospitals increased from 46,600 in 2009 to 2010 to 63,622 in 2016. 
  • Changes to legal aid in England and Wales have negatively affected disabled people’s access to justice. Across GB, there has been a 54% drop in employment tribunal claims on grounds of disability discrimination following the introduction of fees in July 2013. 
  • More disabled and non-disabled people overall are in work in Britain in 2015/16 compared to 2010/11. Despite this, less than half of disabled adults are in employment (47.6%), compared with almost 80% of non-disabled adults, and the gap between these groups has widened since 2010/11. However this is not the case across all impairment types, and for those with mental health conditions and those with physical disabilities the gap between them and non-disabled people has narrowed. 
  • The disability pay gap in Britain also continues to widen. Disabled young people (aged 16-24) and disabled women had the lowest median hourly earnings of all.

David Isaac continued: “This report should be used as a call to arms. We cannot ignore that disabled people are being left behind and that some people – in particular those with mental health conditions and learning disabilities – experience even greater barriers.

“We must have a concerted effort to deliver the changes that are desperately needed. Vital improvements are necessary to the law and policies, and services must meet the needs of disabled people.

“Britain must be a fair and inclusive society in which everyone has equal opportunities to thrive and succeed.”

The report calls on the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to place a new national focus on disability equality, so that the rights of disabled people are fully realised and to deliver improvements in their experience and outcomes.

These include reducing the education and employment gaps for disabled people; ensuring that essential services such as housing, health and transport meet the needs of disabled people; and improve existing laws and policies to better protect and promote the rights of disabled people.

The Commission’s recent submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, produced jointly with the other equality and human rights commissions across the UK, also highlights the need to do more to protect the human rights of disabled people.

It contains 75 recommendations to the UK and devolved governments on how they can improve the rights disabled people enjoy across areas such as housing, transport, social care and employment. The main public examination of the UK by the UN Committee will take place in August 2017, and the Commission will work with the other UK equality and human rights commissions and disabled people and their organisations to help make the recommendations a reality.

Further to this activity, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is engaged in a range of ongoing work aimed improving the lives of disabled people, including legally enforcing the Equality Act, improving access to public services, housing and transport, analysing the impact of welfare reforms, and influencing new legislation.

In light of the cuts to Employment and Support Allowance (work-related activity group) and the recent re-writing of PIP regulations to save money for the Treasury from disabled people’s support, while at the same time the government chose to hand out tax cuts to millionaires, it is inevitable that the situation for disabled people will only get worse.

These additional cuts have happened since the UN published the report about the systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights, to which the government have responded with utter contempt.

Human rights, inclusion and equality are the bedrock of a democratic society. We know from experience over the last six years that we can not depend on this government to observe any of these prerequisite obligations. 

Andrew McDonald, Chair of disability charity, Scope, said: “It is shameful that in 2017 disabled people continue to face such high levels of inequality: at home, at school and at work. And Scope research shows too many continue to face prejudice day-in-day out. 

“But government action has been incoherent. While there have been some positive commitments, the impact of recent reductions and restrictions to benefits and inaction on social care threaten to make life harder for many disabled people. 

“We hope this report serves as a wake-up call. Urgent action is needed. If the government is serious about shaping a society that works for everyone, the Prime Minister should act now to set out a cross-departmental strategy to tackle the injustices disabled people face.”

Liz Sayce, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “This new report makes sombre and disappointing reading, and highlights the unfairness disabled people continue to face, day in and day out.

“As a society, we say we want progress towards disabled people taking a full part in society; but instead we appear to be going backwards.  We need concrete plans from government, with outcomes measured regularly, to ensure we get back on track. We welcome the Equality and Human Rights Commission report and are keen to work with them and others to tackle discrimination.” 

Robert Meadowcroft, Chief Executive of Muscular Dystrophy UK, said: “Much of today’s report puts hard numbers on what we hear every day from people with muscle-wasting conditions about the extreme difficulties in finding a job, a safe place to live and accessing the opportunities many of us take for granted. 

“The government has to respond positively and urgently to the severity of today’s findings, not least in calling a halt to the damaging aspects of benefits reforms, but they are not the only people responsible for making society accessible to all. 

“Employers can be more proactive about making their workplaces and their recruitment policies more open to disabled people. Local councillors can increase their accessible housing targets. And we can collectively check our own attitudes to make sure that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has better news to report in 20 years’ time. This alarming report is a wake-up call that needs to be heard.” 

Let’s not pussyfoot around the deliberate socioeconomic exclusion of disabled people. It’s absolutely unacceptable that in a very wealthy so-called democratic state, disabled people still face so many disadvantages as a direct consequence of discriminatory government policies, across so many different areas of their lives compared to non-disabled people.  

The Conservative’s policies since 2012 that have doggedly aimed at cutting disabled people’s support have been preempted by an outgrouping rhetoric and an all-pervasive political scapegoating media campaign designed, to stir up resentment and desensitise the public to the consequences of policies which discriminate against disabled people. Such actions are a damning indictment of the political intention behind those policies. 

We now have a social security system that is the stuff of dystopian novels about totalitarian bureaucracy. Rather than providing support, welfare has been redesigned by the Conservatives to focus on compliance with unreasonable “behavioural” conditionality (which assumes that poverty is a “lifestyle choice, as opposed to the inevitable consequence of neoliberalism and policies which serve to engineer growing social inequality) and extremely punitive sanctions, rather than supporting people back into appropriate work. 

Stopping or threatening to stop someone’s lifeline support when they are too unwell to work is unforgivably cruel, inappropriate and completely ineffective at helping anyone into employment.

In fact, we know that sanctions will make it almost impossible for someone to find employment. Withdrawing lifefline support as a punishment is likely to create desperation and absolute poverty. The impact of poverty is greater, and often devastating on those people who are ill and disabled. If people cannot meet their basic living needs, they cannot possibly meet higher level psychosocial ones. 

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Sanctions cause unacceptable harm to people who are disabled and ill, and sometimes, sanctions kill people

It is not acceptable that a government in the UK continues to formulate regressive and punitive policies aimed at cutting support for disabled people, which create vulnerability, loss of independence and dignity, distress, psychological and physical damage, and is putting people’s lives at risk.

It is shameful and it needs to be halted.

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I don’t make any money from my work and I am not funded. I am disabled because of illness and struggle to get by. But you can help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others, by making a donation. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Government subverts judicial process and abandons promise on mental health ‘parity of esteem’ to strip people of PIP entitlement

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Personal Independence Payment is a non means tested benefit for people with a long-term health condition or impairment, whether physical, sensory, mental, cognitive, intellectual, or any combination of these. It is an essential financial support towards the extra costs that ill and disabled people face, to help them lead as full, active and independent lives as possible.

Before 2010, policies that entailed cutting lifeline support for disabled people and those with serious illnesses were unthinkable. Now, systematically dismantling social security for those citizens who need support the most has become the political norm.

Any social security policy that is implemented with the expressed aim of “targeting those most in need” and is implemented to replace a policy that is deemed “unsustainable” is invariably about cost cutting, aimed at reducing the eligibility criteria for entitlement. The government were explicit in their statement about the original policy intent behind Personal Independence Payment. However, what it is that defines those “most in need” involves ever-shrinking, constantly redefined categories, pitched at an ever-shifting political goalpost.

Disability benefits were originally designed to help sick and disabled people meet their needs, additional living costs and support people sufficiently to allow  a degree of dignity and independent living. You would be mistaken in thinking, however, that Personal Independent Payment was designed for that. It seems to have been designed to provide the Treasury with ever-increasing pocket money. Or as the source of profit for private providers who constantly assess, monitor, coerce and attempt to “incentivise” those people being systematically punished and impoverished by the state to make “behaviour changes,” which entail them not being disabled or ill and taking any available employment, regardless of its suitability. 

The government have already considered ways of reducing the eligibility criteria for the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) by narrowing definitions of aids and appliances, and were kite flying further limits to eligibility for PIP last  year

Two independent tribunals have ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should expand the scope and eligibility criteria of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which helps both in-work and out-of work disabled people fund their additional living costs. 

Following a court ruling in favour of disabled people last month, the government is rushing in an “urgent change” to the law to prevent many people with mental health conditions being awarded the mobility component of PIP. The court held that people  with conditions such as severe anxiety can qualify for the enhanced rate of the mobility component, on the basis of problems with “planning and following a journey”, or “going out”. 

The government’s new regulations will reverse the recent ruling and means that people with mental health conditions such as severe anxiety who can go outdoors, even if they need to have someone with them, are much less likely to get an award of even the standard rate of the PIP mobility component. The new regulations also make changes to the way that the descriptors relating to taking medication are interpreted, again in response to a ruling by a tribunal in favour of disabled people.

The first tribunal said more points should be available in the “mobility” element for people who suffer “overwhelming psychological distress” when travelling alone. The second tribunal recommended more points in the “daily living” element for people who need help to take medication and monitor a health condition. 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) warned that it would cost £3.7bn extra by 2022 to  implement the court rulings. The government have responded by formulating “emergency legislation” to stop the legal changes that the upper tribunals had ruled on from happening. From 16 March the law will be changed, without any democratic conversation with disabled people and related organisations, or debate in parliament, so that the phrase “For reasons other than psychological distress” will be added to the start of descriptors c, d and f in relation to “Planning and following journeys” on the PIP form.

It’s worth noting that the Coalition Government enshrined in law a commitment to parity of esteem for mental and physical health in the Health and Social Care Act 2012. In January 2014 it published the policy paper Closing the Gap: priorities for essential change in mental health (Department of Health, 2014), which sets out 25 priorities for change in how children and adults with mental health problems are supported and cared for. The limiting changes to PIP legislation does not reflect that commitment.  

The new regulations are being rushed in without any dialogue with the Social Security Advisory Committee, too. 

The government have designed regulations which would, according to Penny Mordaunt, be about “restoring the policy originally intended when the Government developed the PIP assessment”.

The original policy intent was to create an opportunity to limit eligibility for those people previously claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA) whilst they were being reassessed for PIP, which replaced DLA. And to limit successful new claims. 

Mordaunt also said in a written statement to MPs: “If not urgently addressed, the operational complexities could undermine the consistency of assessments, leading to confusion for all those using the legislation, including claimants, assessors, and the courts.

“It is because of the urgency caused by these challenges, and the implications on public expenditure, that proposals for these amendments have not been referred to the Social Security Advisory Committee before making the regulations.”

An ever-shifting, ever-shrinking goalpost

Any social security policy that is implemented with the expressed aim of “targeting those most in need” is invariably about cost cutting and reducing eligibility criteria for entitlement. The government were explicit in their statement about the original policy intent of Personal Independence Payment. 

The government has already considered ways of reducing eligibility criteria for the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment by narrowing definitions of aids and appliances, last  year

Prior to the introduction of PIP, Esther McVey stated that of the initial 560,000 claimants to be reassessed by October 2015, 330,000 of these are targeted to either lose their benefit altogether or see their payments reduced.

We ought to challenge a government that displays such contempt for the judicial system, and ask where the ever-reductive quest for the ever-shrinking category of “those with the greatest need” will end. 

Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams MP, criticised the government’s decision to overturn the tribunal rulings, she said“Instead of listening to the court’s criticisms of PIP assessments and correcting these injustices, this government have instead decided to undermine the legal basis of the rulings”.

Abrahams added: “This is an unprecedented attempt to subvert an independent tribunal judgement by a right-wing government with contempt for judicial process.

By shifting the goal posts, the Tory Government will strip entitlements from over 160,000 disabled people, money which the courts believe is rightfully theirs. This is a step too far, even for this Tory government.”

The government seem to think that PIP is a policy that ought to benefit only the needs of a government on an ideological crusade to reduce social security away to nothing – “to target those in greatest need” – an ever-shrinking, constantly redefined and shifting category of disability.

It is not a democratic government: they are unwilling to engage in a dialogue with the public or to recognise and reflect public needs: that’s an authoritarian elite taking public money and handing it out to a very wealthy minority group in the form of “incentivising” tax cuts, who then say to the public that providing lifeline support for disabled people and those with mental health/medical conditions is “unsustainable”.

Implications for the UK’s obligations regarding the UN convention on the human rights of disabled persons and the Equality Act

The new PIP changes, pushed through without any public conversation or democratic exchange with disabled people, are in breach of both the UN convention on the rights of disabled persons, and the UK Equality Act.

In the Equality Analysis PIP assessment criteria document, the government concede that: “Since PIP is a benefit for people with a disability, impairment or long-term health condition, any changes will have a direct effect on disabled people. The vast majority of people receiving PIP are likely to be covered by the definition of “disability” in the Equality Act 2010.

By definition, therefore, the UT [upper tribunal] judgment results in higher payments to disabled people, and reversing its effect will prevent that and keep payments at the level originally intended. The difference in income will clearly make a real practical difference to most affected claimants, and (depending on factors such as their other resources) is capable of affecting their ability to be independently mobile, access services etc – all matters covered by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as set out at the start of this Analysis.”

It goes on to say in the document: “However, this does not necessarily mean that the increased payments that would result from the judgment are a fair reflection of the costs faced by those affected, or represent a fair approach as between different groups of PIP claimants.” 

People with the following conditions are likely to be affected by the reversal of the upper tribunal’s ruling on those needing support to manage medication, monitor a health condition, or both:

Diabetes mellitus (category unknown), Diabetes mellitus Type 1 (insulin dependent), Diabetes mellitus Type 2 (non-insulin dependent), Diabetic neuropathy, Diabetic retinopathy, Disturbances of consciousness – Nonepileptic – Other / type not known, Drop attacks, Generalised seizures (with status epilepticus in last 12 months), Generalised seizures, (without status epilepticus in last 12 months), Narcolepsy, Non epileptic Attack disorder (pseudoseizures), Partial seizures (with status epilepticus in last 12 months), Partial seizures (without status epilepticus in last 12 months), Seizures – unclassified Dizziness – cause not specified, Stokes Adams attacks (cardiovascular syncope), Syncope – Other / type not known.

People with the following conditions are likely to be affected by the reversal of the independent tribunal’s ruling regarding PIP mobility awards, with conditions in the general category of “severe psychological distress”:

Mood disorders – Other / type not known, Psychotic disorders – Other / type not known, Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective disorder, Phobia – Social Panic disorder, Learning disability – Other / type not known, Generalized anxiety disorder, Agoraphobia, Alcohol misuse, Anxiety and depressive disorders – mixed Anxiety disorders – Other / type not known, Autism, Bipolar affective disorder (Hypomania / Mania), Cognitive disorder due to stroke, Cognitive disorders – Other / type not known, Dementia, Depressive disorder, Drug misuse, Stress reaction disorders – Other / type not known, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Phobia – Specific Personality disorder, Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

The government’s so-called commitment to a “parity of esteem for mental health and physical health” was clearly nothing more than an empty promise – an opportunistic platitude. This is a government that says  one thing and then does exactly the opposite.

 It’s all part of a broader gaslighting and linguistic techniques of neutralisation strategy that passes as Conservative “justification” for their draconian deeds and bullying, discriminatory and uncivilised austerity regime, aimed disproportionately at disabled people.

Commenting on the Ministerial announcement (made yesterday, 23rd February), Rob Holland, Public Affairs Manager at Mencap and Disability Benefits Consortium Parliamentary Co-Chair said:

“We are concerned by these changes to the criteria for Personal Independence Payment (PIP). These risk further restricting access to vital support for thousands of disabled people. Last year, MPs strongly opposed restrictions to PIP and the Government promised no further cuts to disability benefits. Other changes have already had a devastating impact on thousands and in far too many cases people have had to rely on tribunals to access the support they need.

We are deeply disappointed as a coalition of over 80 organisations representing disabled people that we were not consulted about these proposals and their potential impact. The Government must ensure the views of disabled people are properly considered before they proceed with these changes.”

tough-choices

 

The full ministerial statement can be read here.

Download a copy of the new regulations here.

Related

PIP disability benefit test ‘traumatic and intrusive’

PIP and the Tory monologue

Government guidelines for PIP assessment: a political redefinition of the word ‘objective’


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness  and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Words and discrimination: ‘parked’ and ‘vulnerability’

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You can often tell such a lot about people’s views and sometimes, their intentions, by the words and phrases they use. The description of disabled people as being “parked” on benefits (and told/under the impression they will never work again”) is a turn of phrase I loathe. It’s a mantra that’s gained a PR crib sheet resonance from George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith to Stephen Crabb and Damian Green. To extend the metaphor, parking is subject to the availability of a parking space; permission; to regulations and laws; parking tickets and fines; parking attendants and traffic wardens to police and ensure compliance.

Disability and sickness are compared with the inconvenient abandonment of a vehicle in the middle of a very busy market place. Or the informal blatant plonking and installing of oneself on a sofa or bed, behind outrageously closed curtains in the middle of a busy viral epidemic of the protestant work ethic, prompting further symptoms of oppressive impacted resentments and frank, febrile tutting.

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Yet the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) Support Group is made up of those individuals who “have a severe limitation which creates a significant disability in relation to the labour market, regardless of any adaptation they may make or support with which they may be provided” (Department for Work and Pensions, 2009: 8).

Disabled people are being excluded, and at the same time, represented in political and mainstream discourse in ways to evoke moral judgments and public emotions such as distrust, disgust and anger. Evidence of state culpability lies in the relationships between political rhetoric, media narrative and punitive, populist social policy.  

However, in official policy documents, welfare cuts have been dressed up as a discourse related to “support” , “social inclusion” and even “fairness” and “equal opportunity”. Though this is only narrowly discussed in terms of employment outcomes. “Inclusion” has been conflated with being economically productive. In contrast, the media rhetoric, and importantly, the consequences of Conservative policies aimed at disabled people, are increasingly isolating and exclusionary, as a result of intentional political outgrouping.

Yet such rhetoric is surely also counter‐productive to even such a limited view of inclusion, inevitably distorting employer responses to ill and disabled people as potential employees. However, Conservative neoliberal policies reflect a consideration of the supply rather than the demand side of the labour market.

“[…] rather than being concerned with the economic position of disabled people in Britain, the development of the Employment and Support Allowance and the Work Programme was concerned with relationships between the supply of labour and wage inflation, and with developing new welfare (quasi) markets in employment services. Attempting to address the economic disadvantages disabled people face through what are essentially market mechanisms will entrench, rather than address, those disadvantages.”  From: Commodification, disabled people, and wage work in Britain – Chris Grover.

Glib, deceptive and diversionary language use and ideological referencing does nothing to address the social exclusion of disabled people, who are already pushed to the fringes of society. Disabled people have become easy political scapegoats in the age of austerity. Scapegoating and outgrouping have become common political and cultural practices. Stigma is being used to justify the most regressive social policies since before the foundation of the welfare state in the 1940s.  

Patronising and authoritarian Conservatives like to speak very loudly over disabled people, and tell us about our own experiences because they really believe we can’t speak for ourselves. They simply refuse to listen to people who may criticise their policies, raising the often dire consequences being imposed on us because of the “reforms”  CUTS. I also think that we are witnessing the most powerful anti-intellectual and anti-rational ethos in government in living memory.

Whilst Conservative rhetoric lacks coherence, rationality, integrity and verisimilitude, it has an abundance of glittering generalities and crib sheet repetition designed from supremacist decisions made around elitist tables behind closed and heavy doors. The Conservatives seem to believe that disabled people aren’t like other citizens and that we don’t need a democratic voice of our own. Policies are designed to act upon us, to “change” our behaviours through the use of “incentives”, whilst we are completely excluded from their design and aims. Our behaviours are being aligned with neoliberal outcomes, conflating our needs and interests with the private financial profit of others. 

As one of the instigators and a witness for the United Nations investigation into the government’s systematic violations of the human rights of disabled people, as a person with disability, I don’t care for being described by a blatantly oppressive Damian Green as “patronising” or being told that disabled people – witnesses – presented an “outdated view” of disability in the UK. The only opportunity disabled people have been presented with to effectively express our fears, experiences, concerns about increasingly punitive and discriminatory policies and have our democratic opinion heard more generally has been through dialogue with an international human rights organisation, and still this government refuse to hear what we have to say.

Oppression always involves the objectification of those being dominated; all forms of oppression imply the devaluation of the subjectivity and experiences of the oppressed. 

Just as Herbert Spencer supported laissez-faire capitalism and social Darwinism (on the basis of his Lamarckian beliefs) – and claimed that struggle for survival spurred self-improvement which could be inherited – the Conservatives apply the same tired and misguided, private boarding school myths and disciplinarian moral principles in their endorsement of a totalising neoliberalism: the bizarre belief that competition, struggle and strife is “good” for character and even better for the market economy.

Under the Equality Act 2010 there are several types of discrimination that are prohibited. These are direct discrimination (s.13(1) Equality Act 2010), indirect discrimination (s.6 and s.19 Equality Act 2010, harassment (s.26 Equality Act 2010), victimisation (s.27(2) Equality Act 2010), discrimination arising from disability (s.15(1) Equality Act 2010) and failure to make reasonable adjustments (s.20 Equality Act 2010). 

Disabled people are being conveniently reclassified to fit Treasury cost-cutting imperatives. However, the government prefer to say that we are claiming lifeline support because we are “disincentivised” to find a job because we are claiming lifeline support… there’s a whole ludicrous circular government monologue going on there that we are being quite intentionally excluded from.

This is one common type of ableist behaviour: it is a form of discrimination which denies others’ autonomy by speaking for or about them rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to non-disabled persons On this basis, people are assigned or denied certain perceived abilities, skills, and/or character traits. And often, denied rights and a democratic voice.

If you ask disabled people about work, most of us will say we would like to – after all, who of us would actually choose to be ill and disabled – but there are social, political, cultural and economic barriers to our doing so. None of us will tell you we don’t work because we feel secure and comfortably off on an ever-dwindling and paltry amount of ESA, which has been subjected to cuts, further threats of cuts from prominent think tanks, increased conditionality, the threat of sanctions, and constant, distressing assessments and reassessments which were designed to find ways of stopping your lifeline support.

Disabled people became amongst the first citizens of a new class: the precariat. In sociology and economics, the precariat is a social class formed by people suffering from precarity, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material and psychological welfare. The emergence of this class has been ascribed to the entrenchment of neoliberalism.

Many disabled people, however, will tell you that they are simply too ill to work. It’s a ludicrous and frankly terrifying state of affairs that the administrating despots in office don’t accept that some people simply cannot work, and persist in hounding them, claiming that cutting social security, originally calculated to meet only basic needs and now reduced to the point where that is no longer possible, is somehow an “incentive” for very sick people to find work. It’s incredible that the government are telling us with a straight face that a poor person’s “incentive” is punishment and financial loss, whilst millionaires are “incentivised” by reward and financial gifts, such as “tax breaks”.

The same approach is apparent in the recent green paper on work, health and disability, where the government casually discusses subjecting disabled people in the ESA support group to compulsory work related activity and “behavioural conditionality” (sanctions are suggested), though the support group were previously exempt from the punitive welfare conditionality regime, since their doctors and the state accepted that this group of people are simply too ill to work. Employers, it is suggested, are to be “incentivised” by financial rewards – tax cuts. When this government discuss “being fair” to the “tax payer”, they are referring to wealthy and privileged people, not the majority of ordinary citizens such as you and I.

Discrimination is defined as “treating a person or particular group of people differently, especially in a worse way from the way in which you treat other people”, based on characteristics or perceived characteristics. Under Labour’s 2010 Equality Act, direct disability discrimination occurs when a disabled person is treated less favourably than a non-disabled person, and they are treated this way for a reason arising from their disability. Indirect discrimination happens when an organisation or government has a particular policy or way of working that has a worse impact on people who share your disability compared to people who don’t. Harassment is defined as someone treating you in a way that makes you feel humiliated, offended or degraded.

The government even have the cheek to call their discrimination “supporting” and “helping” us. I’ve never heard of such immorality, bullying, indecency, prejudice and punishment being called “help” and “support” before. Millionaires are helped; they get financial handouts in the form of tax cuts that they don’t need. Meanwhile we have lifeline income taken away to fund, leaving us without food, fuel and shelter increasingly often. Such mundane language use is an attempt to mask the intentions and consequences of draconian policies. It utterly nasty, manipulative, callous, calculated cold-blooded gaslighting.

Milton Friedman, in Capitalism and Freedom (1962) felt that “competitive capitalism” is especially important to minority groups, since “impersonal market forces”, he claimed, protect people from discrimination in their economic activities for reasons unrelated to their productivity. Through elimination of centralized control of economic activities, economic power is separated from political power, and the one can serve as counterbalance to the other. However, he couldn’t have been more wrong. What we have seen instead is an authoritarian turn. The UN conclusions to their recent inquiry into the government’s systematic and grave violations of the rights of disabled people verify his lack of foresight and his conflation of public needs and interests with supply-side economic outcomes.

A word about the use of the term “vulnerability”

The reason that some groups are socially and legally protected – and the reason why we have universal human rights – is because some groups of citizens have historically been vulnerable to political abuse and are structurally discriminated against. The aim of human rights instruments is the protection of those vulnerable to violations of their fundamental human rights. The recent United Nations inquiry into the UK government’s systematic violations of the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities concludes that disabled people in the UK are facing systematic political discrimination, social exclusion and oppression.

The Yogyakarta Principles, one of the international human rights instruments use the term “vulnerability” as such potential to abuse and/or social exclusion. Social vulnerability is created through the interaction of social forces and multiple “stressors”, and resolved through social (as opposed to individual) means. Social vulnerability is the product of social inequalities. It arises through social, political and economical processes.

Whilst some individuals within a socially vulnerable context may break free from the hierarchical order, social vulnerability itself persists because of structural – social, economical and political – influences that continue to reinforce vulnerability. 

The medical model is a perspective of disability as a problem of the person, directly caused by disease, trauma, or other health conditions which therefore requires sustained medical care in the form of individual treatment by professionals. The medical model sees management of the disability  as central and ideally, it is aimed at a “cure,” or the individual’s adjustment and behavioural change that would lead to better “management” of symptoms.

The social model of disability outlines “disability” as a socially created problem and a matter of the full inclusion and integration of individuals into society. In this model, disability is not an attribute of an individual, but rather a complex collection of conditions, created by the social environment. The management of the problem requires social  and political action and it is the collective responsibility of society to create an environment and context in which limitations for people with disabilities are minimal. Equal access and inclusion for someone with an impairment/disability is a human rights concern.

From the 70s, sociologists such Eliot Friedson observed that labeling theory and a social deviance perspective could be applied to disability studies. Social constructivist theorists discussed a non-essentialist perspective: the social construction of disability is the idea that disability is constructed as the social response to a deviance from the norm. “Disability” is constructed by social expectations and institutions rather than biological differences.

I think there is something positive to learn from the variety of models of disability, and should like to point out that despite the potential merits of any one in particular, each have also been heavily criticised, and most importantly, there is nothing to stop an unscrupulous government from intentionally exploiting a theoretical paradigm to suit an ideological design. 

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Eugenics

The French statistician, Alphonse Quetelet wrote in the 1830s of l’homme moyen – the “average man”. Quetelet proposed that one could take the sum of all people’s attributes in a given population (such as their height or weight) and find their average, and that this figure should serve as a norm toward which all should aspire. This idea of a statistical norm threads through the rapid growth in the popularity of gathering statistics in Britain, United States, and the Western European states during this period, and it is linked to the rise of eugenics. Disability, as well as other concepts including: “abnormal”, “non-normal”, and “normal” arose from this mindset.

With the rise of eugenics in the latter part of the nineteenth century, such deviations from the norm were viewed as somehow dangerous to the health of entire populations.

As a social and political movement, eugenics reached its greatest popularity in the early decades of the 20th century, when it was practiced around the world and promoted by governments, institutions, and influential individuals. Many countries enacted various eugenic policies, including: genetic screening, birth control, promoting differential birth rates, marriage restrictions, segregation (both racial segregation and sequestering the mentally ill), compulsory sterilization, forced abortions or forced pregnancies, culminating in genocide

The moral dimensions of the eugenics in the 19th and 20th centuries rejected the doctrine that all human beings are born equal, and redefined human worth purely in terms of genetic “fitness”. More recently in the UK we have seen a moral shift entailing human worth being politically redefined in terms of economic productivity. 

Common early 20th century eugenics methods involved identifying and classifying individuals and their families, including the poor, mentally ill, blind, deaf, developmentally disabled, promiscuous women, homosexuals, and racial groups (such as the Roma and Jews in Nazi Germany) as “degenerate” or “unfit”, leading to their segregation or institutionalization, sterilization, euthanasia, and ultimately, their mass murder. The Nazi practice of euthanasia was carried out on hospital patients in the Aktion T4 centres such as Hartheim Castle.

The “scientific” reputation of eugenics declined in the 1930s, a time when Ernst Rüdin used eugenics as a justification for the racial policies of Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler had praised and incorporated eugenic ideas in Mein Kampf in 1925 and emulated eugenic legislation for the sterilization of “defectives” that had been pioneered in the United States once he took power

After World War II, the practice of “imposing measures intended to prevent births within [a population] group” fell within the definition of the new international crime of genocide, set out in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of GenocideThe Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union also proclaims “the prohibition of eugenic practices, in particular those aiming at selection of persons.”

Recently the government in the UK introduced policies that curtail tax credits to the children of mothers claiming financial support for more than two children. Iain Duncan Smith announced that the policy was introduced to “change the behaviours” of people claiming welfare. Of course this assumes that people don’t plan and have their children in more prosperous periods of their lives, and then experience financial hardship for reasons that have nothing to do with their behaviours, such as recession and job losses, or being in low paid work and so on.This has some profound implications for notions of equality and the idea that each human life has equal worth. Such a policy discriminates against children because of when they are born, as well as being discriminating against poor families. Such a policy is an example of negative eugenics by “incentives”

Some campaigners are very critical of the use of the word “vulnerability”, because they feel it leads to attitudes and perceptions of disabled people as passive victims.

Yet I am vulnerable, despite the fact that I am far from passive. Since 2010, no social group has organised, campaigned and protested more than disabled people. Many of us have lived through harrowing times under this government and the last, when our very existence has become so precarious because of targeted and cruel Conservative policies. Yet we have remained strong in our resolve. Despite this, some dear friends and comrades among us have been tragically lost – they have not survived.

In one of the wealthiest democratic nations on earth, no group of people should have to fight for their survival.

I see vulnerability as being rather more about the potential for some social groups being subjected to political abuse. 

We are and have been. This is empirically verified by the report and conclusions drawn from the United Nations inquiry into the grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights here in the UK, by a so-called democratic government.

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I don’t make any money from my work. But you can contribute by making a donation and help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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