Tag: disability hate crime

Prime minister dismisses UN inquiry into government’s discriminatory treatment of disabled people

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has asked David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions today to publish the details of the Government’s response to the United Nations inquiry into the allegations that Conservative policies are breaching the rights of disabled people in the UK. He also asked if the government intended to co-operate with the inquiry.

Such UN investigations are conducted confidentially by the UN and officials will not confirm or deny whether the UK is currently being put under scrutiny.

However, the ongoing inquiry been widely reported by disability rights groups and campaigners. The Department for Work and Pensions has previously declined to comment on the possibility of an investigation.

Mr Corbyn used his final question to ask about the United Nations inquiry into alleged “grave or systemic violations” of the rights of disabled people in the UK. The PM gave a dismissive response, saying the inquiry may not be “all it’s cracked up to be” and said that disabled people in other countries do not have the rights and support that “they” [disabled people] in the UK are offered. Cameron also implied that Labour’s “strong” equality legislation was a Conservative policy. However, the Equality Act was drafted under the guidance of Harriet Harman.

Jeremy Corbyn asks about David Cameron about his response to the UN inquiry at Prime Minister’s Questions

The United Nations team of investigators are expecting to meet with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, members of parliament, individual campaigners and disabled people’s organisations, representatives from local authorities and academics.

The team will be gathering direct evidence from individuals about the impact of government austerity measures, with a focus on benefit cuts and sanctions; cuts to social care; cuts to legal aid; the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF); the adverse impact of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA); the shortage of accessible and affordable housing; the impact of the bedroom tax on disabled people, and also the rise in disability hate crime.

Mr Corbyn said:

“This is deeply embarrassing to all of us in this house and indeed to the country as a whole. It’s very sad news.”

The Government’s approach to people with disabilities had been extremely controversial and been met with criticism from campaign groups. Disabled people have borne the brunt of austerity cuts, losing more income and support than any other social group, and this is despite the fact that Cameron promised in 2010 to protect the poorest, sick and disabled people and the most vulnerable.

In 2013, Dr Simon Duffy at the Centre for Welfare Reform published a briefing outlining how the austerity cuts are targeted. The report says:

The cuts are not fair.

They target the very groups that a decent society would protect:

  • People in poverty (1 in 5 of us) bear 39% of all the cuts
  • Disabled people (1 in 13 of us) bear 29% of all the cuts
  • People with severe disabilities (1 in 50 of us) bear 15% of all the cuts

The report outlines further discrimination in how the austerity cuts have been targeted. The report says:

The unfairness of this policy is seen even more clearly when we look at the difference between the burden of cuts that falls on most citizens and the burdens that fall on minority groups. By 2015 the annual average loss in income or services will be:

  • People who are not in poverty or have no disability will lose £467 per year
  • People who are in poverty will lose £2,195 per year
  • Disabled people will lose £4,410 per year
  • Disabled people needing social care will lose £8,832 per year

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said at the  Conservative party conference speech in Manchester that disabled people “should work their way out of poverty.”

The Work and Pensions Secretary has been widely criticised for removing support for disabled people who want to work: by closing Remploy factories, scrapping the Independent Living Fund, cuts to payments for a disability Access To Work scheme and cuts to Employment and Support Allowance.

The reformed Work Capability Assessment has been very controversial, with critics labeling them unfair, arbitrary, and heavily bureaucratic, weighted towards unfairly removing people’s sickness and disability benefit and forcing them to look for work.

The bedroom tax also hits disabled people disproportionately, with around two thirds of those affected by the under-occupancy penalty being disabled.

The United Nations have already deemed that the bedroom tax constitutes a violation of the human right to adequate housing in several ways. If, for example, the extra payments force tenants to cut down on their spending on food or heating their home. There are already a number of legal challenges to the bedroom tax under way in British courts. In principle the judiciary here takes into account the international human rights legislation because the UK has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The right to adequate housing is recognised in a number of international human rights instruments that the UK has signed up to.

UN rapporteur Raquel Rolnik called for the UK government last year to scrap its controversial bedroom tax policy. Rolnik’s report was dismissed as a “misleading Marxist diatribe” by Tory ministers, and she had been subject to a “blizzard of misinformation” and xenophobic tabloid reports.

The DWP’s sanctions regime has also been widely discredited, and there has been controvery over death statistics, eventually released by the Department after a long-running refusal to release the information under freedom of information law.

The Daily Mail has already preempted the visit from the special rapporteur, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, who is spearheading the ongoing inquiry into many claims that Britain is guilty of grave or systematic violations of the rights of sick and disabled people, by using racist stereotypes, and claiming that the UN are “meddling”. The Mail blatantly attempted to discredit this important UN intervention and the UN rapporteur before the visit.

Meanwhile, Cameron seems very keen to play the investigation down, and dismiss the impact of his government’s “reforms” on the lives of sick and disabled people.

We are a very wealthy, so-called first-world liberal democracy, the fact that such an inquiry has been deemed necessary at all ought to be a source of great shame for this government.

 

Labour would end this Government’s demonisation of benefits claimants – Chi Onwurah MP

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This afternoon I will be leading a debate on the treatment – or more accurately the demonisation – of benefits claimants.

On my website I publish monthly pie charts of the issues constituents raise with me. Benefits is consistently in the top three.

Benefits claimants are by definition going through a tough time; they may have lost a job, have an illness or disability or are in low-paid or part time work, or they are caring for young children or relatives, making it harder to work.

They need our support, our care, concern for and understanding of the challenges they face. As our Shadow Secretary of State Rachel Reeves has said: “Jobcentres, and the HMRC offices that currently administer tax credits, are vital public services that British citizens pay for with their taxes. People who use them have as much right to expect fair and respectful treatment as patients in an NHS hospital, parents dealing with their child’s school, or victims reporting a crime at a police station.”

But it has become increasingly clear to me that that is not what is happening.

I have dealt with casework where the only explanation for the inhumane way in which my constituents were being treated is that the employees of the Department and its agencies had forgotten – or had been told to forget – that benefits claimants were people, human beings with lives, loved ones and feelings.

In the debate I give three examples. I could have given three hundred.

The first a vulnerable constituent on Employment Support Allowance and incapacity allowance. He was being helped by Newcastle Welfare Rights, who told the DWP that after suddenly being found fit to work:

“..he was acutely distressed; he struggled to talk, he was having thoughts of suicide, he had also started drinking alcohol to cope and had struggled to leave the house”

Despite supporting psychological assessments, other evidence, and an attempted suicide, the decision was not reversed and in January 2014 he was found hanged by his neighbour.

The second case an IT worker made unemployed, earnestly applying for every possible vacancy.

But he was sanctioned by the Jobcentre because his work search record was judged inadequate – in the week his father died.

Now think about that for a moment. Is there anyone in this country of whatever political persuasion who does not believe that a son should be given the opportunity to grieve for and bury his father?

Whether or not he is claiming benefits.

Yet the culture that this Government has put in place is such that this is what happens. And whilst Esther McVey may claim it is nothing to do with them, organisational culture is determined by those at the top.

My third example is a constituent sanctioned at the beginning of December for not returning a review form he never received which asked him the same questions he answered when he first signed on. Despite trying to complete the form over the phone, going to the Job Centre, asking for and being promised an emergency payment he spent the whole month including the festive period dependent on handouts from friends and family, unable to afford heating or even to go and see his young daughter at Christmas.

And all the while the Government is paying for adverts on buses saying “Think you know a Newcastle upon Tyne Benefits Cheat? Report them anonymously.”

There are people on benefits who are abusing the system – who take what they can get and consider benefits both a lifestyle and a right.

But that is a very small proportion. It is estimated that 0.7% of welfare spending is lost to fraud in comparison with 1.3% lost to overpayment because of mistakes.

I have yet to see adverts encouraging people to turn in tax evaders, despite the Treasury itself estimating the ‘tax gap’ at £34 bn and others putting it much higher.

The sense that they are being treated as second class citizens, scroungers, cheats, has a terrible impact on the wellbeing and particularly the mental health of claimants.

I have some experience of that.

I was brought up largely on benefits. We were a one parent family. It was very hard for my mother who was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and also suffered breast cancer, not only because of our poverty but also because of her shame at taking hand outs.

I am very glad she did not have to face the sort of vilification and abuse experienced now, abuse caused in part by a sustained campaign from some politicians on the right.

Contrary to what many of them would imagine, I was brought up with a strong work ethic, and also to believe that the state would provide a robust safety net for those that needed it.

I am not proud that I grew up on benefits. But I am not ashamed either. A Labour Government must and will put an end to this Government’s demonisation of those claiming benefits today.

Author: Chi OnwurahMember of Parliament for Newcastle Central.

The full debate may be read here on Hansard2.30pm, 7 Jan 2015: from Column 112WH.

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 Labour MPs have persistently raised the issue of the government and media demonisation of those claiming benefits in Parliamentry debate, challenging serial offenders such as Iain Duncan Smith. Other MPs included are Glenda Jackson, Dame Anne Begg, Anne McGuire, Liam Byrne, John McDonnell and Sheila Gilmore, amongst others.

Rachel Reeves has also pledged to end the benefit sanction targets.

I am pleased that Labour have also pledged to legislate to protect disabled people from hate crime . We need to see an end to the stigmatisation of people who have to rely on lifeline benefits. After all, most people needing support have worked and paid taxes, they ought to be able to claim the support that they have paid for without being punished and scapegoated by the government and media. KSJ

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone