Tag: Dr Simon Duffy

Centre for Welfare Reform calls for citizen convention to develop rights-driven constitutional reform

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Last month, the Centre for Welfare Reform (CWR) launched a new campaign, calling for constitutional reform to combat a political system that serves only the interests of the few.

The CWR, working with a broad alliance of different organisations, is calling for a citizens’ convention in order to develop a better constitution for the UK. The Centre have published an open letter calling for change:

Open Letter on Constitutional Reform: A new settlement between people and government is needed. We need a written constitution.

We, the undersigned, work to bring about a better, fairer society. However we have come to see that our efforts are compromised by an economic and political system that serves only the interests of the few. Every day we see grotesque inequality, poverty wages and rising consumer debt, over-powerful banks and energy companies, a housing crisis, and disregard for environmental standards. Worst of all we see a retreating welfare state that inflicts punitive sanctions on some of our most vulnerable people and communities.

Multiple injustices at home are mirrored by a deeply unethical foreign policy. Rather than promote peace, uphold human rights and democratic norms, our foreign policy is dominated by commercial imperatives which include lucrative arms sales to countries with repressive regimes and abysmal human rights records.

None of these crises can be resolved without reference to basic principles of economic, social and environmental justice and these in turn should not be separate from the legislative principles that guide the work of Parliament.

To make this happen, we need a new settlement between people and government in the form of a written constitution that embeds a comprehensive bill of human rights, including economic, social and environmental rights. It must delimit the power of Parliament by devolving real power to the regions and nations that make up the UK and place local government on an independent legal footing. Only then can ordinary people gain real control over their lives and shape their own future. The people, not Parliament, must be the new sovereign and a written constitution is the means to achieve that.

We therefore call for a Citizens’ Convention on a written constitution as the first step towards this goal.

Anyone wishing to add their support to this campaign can do so by contacting Gavin Barker from the Centre for Welfare Reform.

You can also read Gavin’s excellent article here: Why the UK Needs a Written Constitution

Neoliberalism works to support a politically powerful and influential minority to accumulate wealth by steadily dispossessing the majority of citizens. This has implications for social justice, human rights and democracy. The idea that the market is somehow a neutral mechanism through which the sum of individual choices will lead to progress has been seriously challenged by empirical evidence that demonstrates clearly how neoliberalism has led to social, political and economic regression, as our post- war settlement has been systematically dismantled.

As a researcher and campaigner against austerity, inequality, social injustice and political authoritarianism, and as also, as someone who recognises that neoliberalism is utterly incompatible with democracy and a human rights framework, Politics and Insights welcomes and supports this campaign.  

The current government believes that some people are ‘better than others’, and deserve more wealth. The neoliberal view of a meritocratic society has simply reconstructed the traditional Conservative defence of order, authority and discipline (but only for the poorest citizens) and has simply reimposed their view of a hierarchical ‘natural order.’

The political justification presented for this is the mistaken belief that socioeconomic inequality is desirable, as it somehow ‘incentivises’ people to achieve more. However, historic empirical research indicates that achievement and human potential are stifled when people have to struggle to meet their basic need for food, fuel and shelter. 

We are told that we are free to choose the course of our lives, but the freedom to make decisions outside the narrow narrative of ‘success’ is limited. Furthermore, those who fail are deemed to be ‘losers’ or ‘scroungers’, and defined as a burden on the state.

Neoliberals would have us believe that success depends on individual effort and talents, meaning responsibility lies entirely with the individual and authorities should give people as much freedom as possible to achieve this goal. For those who believe in the myth of unrestricted choice, self-government, self-responsibility, self-discipline and self-management are the mantra. For those who don’t, well there is a team of behavioural economists employed by the Government who are running social experiments without your consent, looking for ways of aligning your behaviour with neolberal outcomes. Choices become choice, our ‘best interests’ are ultimately being defined by the state and a handful of self appointed technocrats and “choice architects”.

Along with the idea that wealthy people are cognitively competent, but the rest of us are not, the freedom of choice we are told we have in the UK is the greatest untruth of our age. Competitive individualism invariably means a few win and many more lose. That is the nature of competition, after all. Inequality is built into the meritocratic script. It’s also built into our laws. Along with growing material inequality, the distribution of power in our society has also never been more unequal in our lifetime. Imposing an economic system that benefits so few requires an authoritarian Government, which, despite its ‘small state’ narrative, has become increasingly intrusive on a personal and psychological level over the last few years. 

The steady retreat of the welfare state that now embodies coercion and punishment, rather than support, inflicting discipline and draconian sanctions on some of our most vulnerable citizens and communities, no longer provides adequate support for citizens who lack the means to meet their basic survival needs. 

Our post-war settlement is being dismantled with stealth and dispatch – the welfare state, the NHS, legal aid and social housing – each of these historic social gains formed the basis of inclusive, civilising and civil institutions that have democratised and civilised our society. Yet public services came about to ensure each and every citizen’s life has equal dignity and worth; that no-one dies prematurely because of absolute poverty or because they have no access to justice, medical care and housing. 

Small state libertarian principles apply only to public services and meeting public need, when it comes to the private interests of the wealthy, the Government shows a remarkable generosity. Apparently wealthy people aren’t ‘incentivised’ by cuts to their income, draconian discipline, and brutal ‘behavioural change’ policies like poor people are claimed to be. Public policy has become an instrument of stigmatisation, social exclusion, outgrouping and increasing marginalisation.    

Othering and outgrouping are politically weaponised and strategic inhumanities designed to misdirect and convince populations suffering the consequences of intentionally targeted austerity, deteriorating standards of living and economic instability – all of which arose because of the actions of a ruling financial class – that the ‘real enemy’ is ‘out there’, that there is an ‘us’ that must be protected from ‘them.’  

It needs to be challenged and we need to change this, because social prejudice undermines the safety, fair treatment, dignity and worth of fellow human beings, on the basis of their characteristics. 

This extremely divisive and dangerous approach to imposing a totalising neoliberal ideology has been amplified by a predominantly right-wing media, who have constructed negative stereotypes – folk devils – from already marginalised groups to generate moral outrage and to desensitise and de-empathise the public to the terrible consequences of harsh neoliberal policies on previously socially protected groups. Stereotyping goes hand in hand with prejudice. 

Given our diverse and multicultural world, it is of great importance to understand ways to reduce social prejudice. In the 1950’s, Gordon Allport – who studied the role of social prejudice in Nazi Germany, leading to the Holocaust –  introduced the intergroup-contact hypothesis. In this view, intergroup contact under positive conditions can reduce social prejudice. The necessary conditions include cooperation towards shared goals, equal status between groups, and the support of Government, local authorities and cultural norms. 

I’m also a strong advocate of prefigurative, participatory democracy. I don’t believe that democracy is just about voting once every five years. It’s also about distributive social justice (concerning the socially just allocation of resources and goods).  

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, the Government persistently dismiss qualitative accounts from citizens as ‘anecdotal’, refusing to engage in a democratic dialogue.

In the UK, the way that 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 become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

I absolutely agree that none of these issues can be resolved without reference to basic principles of economic, social and environmental justice and these in turn should not be separate from the legislative principles that guide the work of Parliament. 

And: “To make this happen, we need a new settlement between people and government in the form of a written constitution that embeds a comprehensive bill of human rights, including economic, social and environmental rights. It must delimit the power of Parliament by devolving real power to the regions and nations that make up the UK and place local government on an independent legal footing.” 

Positive change is long overdue.

Kitty.

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Related

The still face paradigm, the just world fallacy, inequality and the decline of empathy

The importance of citizens’ qualitative accounts in democratic inclusion and political participation

Neoliberalism and corruption: hidden in plain sight

 


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An inclusive well done to all who worked to bring about the UN Inquiry into the systematic and grave violations of disabled people’s human rights

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I reported last August that the United Nations is to carry out an unprecedented inquiry into “systematic and grave violations” of disabled people’s human rights by the UK government. The UK is the first developed country to face such an inquiry, a fact which should be a source of shame for the Conservatives.

Many campaigners have been concerned for a long time by the disproportionate impact of the Tory-led cuts on disabled people. Many of those campaigners have themselves been adversely affected by the Tory’s draconian welfare cuts, myself included.

My own experiences of the Government’s Work Capability Assessment process led to a deterioration in my health in 2011. (I have lupus, a chronic and life-threatening autoimmune illness). I was wrongly assessed as fit for work, after being forced to give up my job as a mental health social worker because I was deemed too ill to work by my doctor, and my benefit was withdrawn – my only source of income. I appealed and after waiting nine months for the tribunal, I won.

Since then I have worked to support others going through this often harrowing and extremely punitive process. I co-run a group on Facebook called ESA/DLA, which offers support and free legal advice to sick and disabled people facing adverse circumstances because of the draconian Tory policies. The other administrators are Tracey Flynn, who is a qualified human rights specialist, Robert Livingstone, a friend and fellow campaigner, and Sonia Wilson, who originally set the group up. We are all ill and affected by disabilty. We welcome the United Nations inquiry, and both Tracey and I have made our own detailed submissions to the UN.

I reported in 2013 that the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights conducted an inquiry into the UK Government’s implementation of Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) – the right to live independently and to be included in the community. The inquiry which began in 2011 has received evidence from over 300 witnesses.

As I reported last month, the UN inquiry has taken place under the Convention’s Optional Protocol on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is a side-agreement to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It was adopted on 13 December 2006, and entered into force at the same time as its parent Convention on 3 May 2008. As of July 2015, it has 92 signatories and 87 state parties.

The Optional Protocol establishes an individual complaints mechanism for the Convention similar to that of other Conventions. But this Protocol also accepts individual economic, social and cultural rights. Parties agree to recognise the competence of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to consider complaints from individuals or groups who claim their rights under the Convention have been violated. The Committee can request information from and make recommendations to a party.

In addition, parties may permit the Committee to investigate, report on and make recommendations on “grave or systematic violations” of the Convention. The mechanism has allowed many disabled campaigners to submit reports and evidence to the United Nations, including myself.

The inquiry has arisen because of the hard work of many campaigners, since 2012. As well as collective contributions from prominent disability rights groups such as Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC), many other groups and independent campaigners have also worked very hard to make this inquiry happen, and have submitted evidence to the UN. That needs to be acknowledged, we need to be inclusive and celebrate the achievement of everyone who has collaborated and contributed to this.

I would like to say a special and personal thank you to Samuel Miller, a Canadian disability rights specialist who has supported many campaigners here in the UK, and who also recognised the retrogressive and draconian nature of Tory policies. Samuel has worked hard to submit reports and evidence to the UN over the last few years, he has included and incorporated the work of other campaigners, such as myself, as well as supporting other campaigners with their own independent submissions.

The WOW campaign also deserve a massive thank you for their work in raising awareness of the need for a cumulative impact assessment of the welfare “reforms”. Another thank you goes to Jane Young, for her work and leading authorship of the Dignity and Opportunity for All: Securing the rights of disabled people in the austerity era report for the Just Fair consortium.

A massive thank you to everyone who has contributed to awareness raising and campaigning for the rights of disabled people, many have worked so hard, independently, unsupported and with quiet determination and strength.

Every single contribution is precious and every effort is valued and deserves recognition, inclusion and thanks.

Another personal thanks goes to Dr Simon Duffy, director of think tank The Centre for Welfare Reform for his research and hard work. He demonstrated through independent research carried out since 2010 that the UK Government has targeted cuts on people in poverty and people with disabilities.

Many of us have consistently and repeatedly pointed to the disproportionate, negative impact of the bedroom tax on sick and disabled people; the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF); the political stigmatisation of sick and disabled people and the role played by the media in inflaming disability hate crime; the extent of cuts to local authority care funding; the government’s persistent unwillingness to carry out cumulative impact assessment of its “reforms” on sick and disabled people; the impact of benefit sanctions on disabled people; delays in benefit assessments; and the government’s reluctance to monitor disabled people found fit for work and who have lost their lifeline benefits – their only means of support.

Dr Duffy said:

“In fact the people with the most severe disabilities have faced cuts several times greater than those faced by cuts to the average citizen. This policy has been made even worse by processes of assessment and sanctions that are experienced as stigmatising and bullying.

The government has utterly failed to find jobs for the people they target – people who are often very sick, who have disabilities or who have mental health problems.

Instead we are seeing worrying signs that they are increasing rates of illness, suicide and poverty.”

In December 2014, the UN Human Rights Council created the role of UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities. Part of the Special Rapporteur’s broad mandate is to report annually to the Human Rights Council and General Assembly with recommendations on how to better promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities.

The Special Rapporteur, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, will be coming to the UK in the next couple of months to gather further evidence of the grave and systematic  violations of disabled people’s human rights.

United Nations (UN) investigations are conducted confidentially, I’ve already submitted evidence. Anyone wishing to make a submission may contact the UN here:

Catalina Devandas Aguilar
Special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities
Address: OHCHR-UNOG; CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Email: sr.disability@ohchr.org

Witnesses will be asked to sign an agreement to prevent them from speaking about the meeting with the UN rapporteurs, or identifying who gave evidence. The UN said that confidentiality is necessary to secure the co-operation of the host country and importantly, to protect witnesses.

Evidence submitted to the inquiry, its subsequent report to the UK government and the government’s response will not be published until the CRPD meets to discuss the inquiry in Geneva in 2017.

 

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Images courtesy of Robert Livingstone

UN officials to visit UK over coming months to investigate whether Iain Duncan Smith’s “reforms” to disability benefits are compatible with Human Rights

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I reported last year that the UK has become the first country to face a United Nations inquiry into disability rights violations. A formal investigation was launched by the United Nation’s Committee regarding the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Officials from the United Nation’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are to visit Britain after the Tories announced a wave of new austerity measures, including slashing disability benefits by a further £30 a week.

Thousands of sick and disabled people claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are to have their weekly payment cut from £102.15 to £73.10, which is the same amount as jobseekers’ allowance, if they are assessed as being able to undertake “work-related activity”. Bearing in mind that in order to claim ESA in the first place, prior to assessment, a doctor has already deemed this group of people unfit for work, the move to cut lifeline benefits further is especially cruel and inhumane.

We signed up to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities under the last Labour government. On 8 June 2009, the UK government ratified the Convention, signaling its commitment to take concrete action to comply with the legal rights and obligations contained in the Convention. The Government also ratified the Convention’s Optional Protocol.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a side-agreement to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It was adopted on 13 December 2006, and entered into force at the same time as its parent Convention on 3 May 2008. As of July 2015, it has 92 signatories and 87 state parties.

The Optional Protocol establishes an individual complaints mechanism for the Convention similar to that of other Conventions. But this Protocol also accepts individual rights on economic, social and cultural rights. Parties agree to recognise the competence of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to consider complaints from individuals or groups who claim their rights under the Convention have been violated. The Committee can request information from and make recommendations to a party.

In addition, parties may also permit the Committee to investigate, report on and make recommendations on “grave or systematic violations” of the Convention.

In December 2014, the UN Human Rights Council created the role of UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities. Part of the Special Rapporteur’s broad mandate is to report annually to the Human Rights Council and General Assembly with recommendations on how to better promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities.

The Special Rapporteur chose to focus her first report on a thematic inquiry into the right to social security, globally. The report will be published in October 2015.

The Commission’s response focuses on three areas from the UK that are highly relevant to the Special Rapporteur’s inquiry:

  • The impact of reforms to the UK’s social security system on disabled people’s rights to independence and to an adequate standard of living;
  • Whether the design and delivery of health and social care services in England is consistent with the rights to physical and mental health, independent living and freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and
  • The impact of reforms affecting access to civil law justice in England and Wales on disabled people’s right to effective access to justice.

The Commission’s response to the UN Special Rapporteur’s inquiry into persons with disabilities right to social security can be found here.

The Disability Convention requires governments to designate one or more independent mechanisms to “promote, protect and monitor implementation” of the Convention.

The Commission, which is Britain’s National Human Rights Institution, has been designated alongside the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Northern Ireland Equality Commission to fulfill this role in UK.

The Sunday Herald has more recently reported that UN officials will visit the UK in the next few months to investigate whether Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare “reforms” have led to “grave or systematic violations” of disabled people’s human rights.  According to the Scottish Herald, a leading Scottish disability charity has been advised that a visit by the Special Rapporteur and members of the Committee on the rights of persons with disabilities is expected in the “near future”.

United Nations (UN) investigations are conducted confidentially, I’ve already submitted reports and evidence regarding the impact of the welfare “reforms” on sick and disabled people. I’ve mostly focussed on the withdrawal of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), the adverse consequences of the Work Capability Assessment, workfare and sanctions.

Anyone wishing to make a submission may contact the UN here:

Catalina Devandas Aguilar
Special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities
Address: OHCHR-UNOG; CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Email: sr.disability@ohchr.org

The Department of Work and Pensions have refused to comment regarding the inquiry.

Shocking statistics published by the Department of Work and Pensions last week showed thousands of people have died after being declared “fit for work”. The figures, which did not detail the cause of the deaths, revealed that at least 2,380 people died between December 2011 and February 2014 within six weeks of a work capability assessment (WCA), which found them found them fit for work.

Bill Scott, director of policy at Inclusion Scotland, a consortium of disability organisations, said: “The UN have notified us they will be visiting Britain to investigate … and want to meet with us when they come, sometime in the next few months.”

Inclusion Scotland has also made a submission to the study being prepared by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, which is examining the right of disabled people to social protection.

In the submission, Inclusion Scotland warned that the UK Government’s welfare reforms are “jeopardising disabled people’s right to life” by increasing the risk of suicide after loss of benefits. Last week, the Sunday Herald revealed that DWP staff had been given official guidance on how to deal with suicidal claimants left penniless after suffering benefit sanctions.

The Inclusion Scotland submission also highlights a series of shocking findings, including that disabled people in some areas of Scotland are waiting for up to ten months to access Personal Independent Payment (PIP) disability benefits, due to delays in assessments taking place.

Dr Simon Duffy, director of think tank The Centre for Welfare Reform, said independent research carried out since 2010 had shown the UK Government has targeted cuts mostly at people in poverty and people with disabilities. Disabled people have been targeted by cuts nine times more than other citizens. It also found that people with disabilities, who make up one in 13 of the population, bore almost a third (29%) of the cuts.

He added:

In fact the people with the most severe disabilities have faced cuts several times greater than those faced by cuts to the average citizen. This policy has been made even worse by processes of assessment and sanctions that are experienced as stigmatising and bullying.

The government has utterly failed to find jobs for the people they target – people who are often very sick, who have disabilities or who have mental health problems.

Instead we are seeing worrying signs that they are increasing rates of illness, suicide and poverty.

Many disabled people’s rights campaigners, such as Samuel Miller, Robert LivingstoneMike Sivier and myself, amongst others, welcome this development. Many  campaigners and organisations have made submissions to the UN, using the Optional Protocol mechanism. As I’ve said elsewhere, our political freedoms and human rights must not be subservient to Tory notions of economic success. Democracy is not about the private accumulation of wealth. It is about the wise use of the collective wealth for the common good of the public – that must extend to include ALL of our citizens. And a decent, civilised, democratic society supports its vulnerable members and upholds universal human rights.

Disabled people have been stigmatised, scapegoated and subjected to cuts in their lifeline support because of the financial mistakes and poor decision-making of government.

We need to ask why our Government has so far refused to instigate or agree an inquiry into the substantial rise in deaths amongst sick and disabled people, as these deaths are so clearly correlated with policy changes.  Or why a cumulative impact assessment has not been carried out regarding the consequences of these extremely draconian policies.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone, used with thanks

Inequality has risen: Incomes increased for the richest last year, but fell for everyone else

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On 04 June, 2014, at 3.52pm BST, Cameron said inequality is at its lowest level since 1986. I really thought I’d misheard him. This isn’t the first time Cameron has used this lie. We have a government that provides disproportionate and growing returns to the already wealthy, whilst imposing austerity cuts on the very poorest. How can such a government possibly claim that inequality is falling, when inequality is so fundamental to their ideology and when social inequalities are extended and perpetuated by all of their policies? The standard measure of inequality is  certainly being used to mislead us into thinking that the economy is far more “inclusive’ than it is.

Dr Simon Duffy authored report – A Fair Society?  – last year, for the Centre for Welfare Reform, about how the austerity cuts have been targeted. He said:

  • People in poverty are targeted 5 times more than most citizens
  • Disabled people are targeted 9 times more than most citizens
  • People needing social care are targeted 19 times more than most citizens

“The UK is the third most unequal developed country in the world and most disabled people live in poverty. The current policy is guaranteed to increase inequality and to make extreme poverty even worse.”

I also wrote an article last year –  Follow the Money: Tory Ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor. I said:

The following cuts came into force in April 2013:

  • 1 April – Housing benefit cut, including the introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’
  • 1 April – Council tax benefit cut
  • 1 April – Legal Aid savagely cut
  • 6 April – Tax credit and child benefit cut
  • 7 April – Maternity and paternity pay cut
  • 8 April – 1% cap on the rise of in working-age benefits (for the next three years)
  • 8 April – Disability living allowance replaced by personal independence payment (PIP)
  • 15 April – Cap on the total amount of benefit working-age people can receive

Here are some of the “incentives” for the wealthy:

  • Rising wealth – 50 richest people from this region increased their wealth by £3.46 billion last year to a record £28.5 billion.
  • Falling taxes – top rate of tax cut from 50% to 45% for those earning over £150,000 a year. This is 1% of the population who earn 13% of the income.
  • No mansion tax and caps on council tax mean that the highest value properties are taxed proportionately less than average houses.
  • Benefited most from Quantitative Easing (QE) – the Bank of England say that as 50% of households have little or no financial assets, almost all the financial benefit of QE was for the wealthiest 50% of households, with the wealthiest 10% taking the lions share
  • Tax free living – extremely wealthy individuals can access tax avoidance schemes which contribute to the £25bn of tax which is avoided every year, as profits are shifted offshore to join the estimated £13 trillion of assets siphoned off from our economy.

I also said: “A simple truth is that poverty happens because some people are very, very rich. That happens ultimately because of Government policies that create, sustain and extend inequalities. The very wealthy are becoming wealthier, the poor are becoming poorer. This is a consequence of  “vulture capitalism”, designed by the opportunism and greed of a few, it is instituted, facilitated and directed by the Tory-led  Coalition. ”  

Inequality Briefing reports that richest fifth of the UK population saw their incomes increase by £940 in 2013. But incomes were down by £250 for the other 80% of the population… and by £381 for the poorest fifth , according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS)

Incomes increased for the richest fifth of the population last year, but fell for everyone else

Thanks to Inequality Briefing for the info graphic and summary

To download the full pdf, click here

Explaining the data

This data compares the ‘equivalised disposable household income’ for 2011/12 and 2012/13. It was published by the Office for National Statistics as part of ‘the effects of UK tax and benefits on household income 2012/13 study.’ ONS have found that the recession did have a small effect on reducing inequality, but it now looks as though inequality is set to increase.

It has increased. Just as we have predicted.

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Other relevant articles:

Quantitative data on poverty from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Welfare reforms, food banks, malnutrition and the return of Victorian diseases are not coincidental, Mr Cameron

The poverty of responsibility and the politics of blame 

“We are raising more money for the rich” – an analysis 

Cameron’s Gini and the hidden hierarchy of worth

How the Tories chose to hit the poor

UK becomes the first country to face a UN inquiry into disability rights violations

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We ought to be very concerned about the government’s declaration that they intend to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, (ECHR) and to repeal our own Human Rights Act, (HRA). One has to wonder what Cameron’s discomfort with the HRA is. The Act, after all, goes towards protecting the vulnerable from neglect of duty and abuse of power. The rights protected by the HRA are drawn from the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights, which was a way of ensuring that we never again witness the full horrors of the second world war, and overwhelmingly, one of the greatest stains on the conscience of humanity – the Holocaust.

Human Rights establish a simple set of minimum standards of decency for humankind to hold onto for the future. The European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was drafted as a lasting legacy of the struggle against fascism and totalitarianism, as well as the atrocities of world war 2.

What kind of government would want those basic protections for citizens overturned?

One that doesn’t value or wish to uphold the universal protection of its citizens. From the State.

Last month, a new report, Dignity and Opportunity for All: Securing the Rights of Disabled People in the Austerity Era – Jane Young is the lead author – exposed the Coalition’s failure to meet its international human rights obligations under both the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The report – also published by the Just Fair Coalition, a consortium of 80 national charities including Amnesty International, Save the Children, and Oxfam, says the UK is in clear breach of its legal obligations. Support structures for many disabled people have disappeared or are under threat as local authorities cut social care budgets, whilst cuts to benefits will leave many disabled people without crucial help for daily living.

Jane Campbell, a cross-bench peer who is disabled herself, said: “It is both extremely worrying and deeply sad that the UK – for so long regarded as an international leader in protecting and promoting disabled people’s rights – now risks sleepwalking towards the status of a systematic violator of these same rights.”

The UK government seems to be the first to face such a high-level international inquiry, initiated by the United Nations Committee because of “grave or systemic violations” of the rights of disabled people. That ought to be a source of shame for the Coalition, especially considering that this country was once considered a beacon of human rights, we are (supposedly) a first-world liberal democracy, and a very wealthy nation, yet our government behave like tyrants towards the poorest and some of the most vulnerable citizens of the UK.  As disability specialist, campaigner and first-class human rights activist, Samuel Miller says: “Britain is [now] a retrograde society and a flagrant violator of human rights—especially the rights of the sick and disabled”. 

It’s because of the sterling work of people such as Mr Miller that the UN have been made aware of our dire situation, here in the UK. Many of us have contacted the UN and made submissions, detailing the detrimental impacts that punitive Tory policies such as the bedroom tax, other welfare “reforms” (cuts), including the increasing use of benefit sanctions, the Work Capability Assessment, Tory targets for reducing spending and local authority cuts, for example, are having on sick and disabled people.

This is a government who refuse to undertake a cumulative impact assessment of their “reforms” and also continue to dismiss any evidence provided that challenges their own glib and deceitful account as “anecdotal”. Yet we are expected to regard Tory soundbites such as the “culture of entitlement” and the “something for nothing culture”as some sort of empirical evidence that somehow justifies the cruel removal of people’s lifeline benefits and support.

There’s more than one issue here, though it’s plain that the government have no intention of addressing any of the terrible consequences of their draconian policies, and use denial and stigmatising others to deflect attention from their intents. I am reminded of Techniques of Neutralisation – a well known collection of tactics used to justify prejudiced views and discriminatory actions.

Another related and important issue is that people’s qualitative experiences should matter to any decent government, but the Coalition is far more concerned with its persistent attempts at INVALIDATING those experiences, (such attempts to invalidate and exclude the narrative of experiences of previously and presently marginalised people is a hallmark of the oppressive, supremacist condescension of historically powerful and privileged groups) –  denying their victims a voice and remedy. We know that this is not a democratic government that serves its citizens and reflects their needs.

Thanks to the sterling work of Dr Simon J Duffy, from the Centre for Welfare Reform, amongst others, we know that the austerity measures in the UK have disproportionately affected those people with disabilities and their carers. Dr Duffy’s work on the impact of the austerity cuts shows us that:

  • People in poverty are targeted 5 times more than most citizens
  • Disabled people are targeted 9 times more than most citizens
  • People needing social care are targeted 19 times more than most citizens

Yet, this government claims a cumulative impact assessment is “too difficult and costly”, I suggest that they use their considerable publicly donated, tax-collected wealth to fund the work of the Centre for Welfare Reform, who managed to undertake this work without hitting the obstacles the government claims it has. This said, perhaps the findings are the real obstacle that the government are concerned about. Because those findings are damning, and tell us that the welfare “reforms” are NOT “fair” as claimed, and are causing harm, distress, hardships and sometimes, death. The grossly punitive, draconian “reforms” need to be repealed.

The UN Committee has the power to launch an inquiry if it receives “reliable information” that violations have been committed, and as the Labour Government signed up to the protocol in 2009 – the UNCRPD and the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights – it is legally binding. Many of us have used the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to send communication and make submissions since 2012.

Austerity measures and welfare “reforms” such as the bedroom tax (which is in itself established by the UN as being a contravention of human rights law) mean the rights of disabled people to independent living, work, and adequate social security have been seriously undermined, causing significant hardship, and sometimes, leading to tragic consequences.

Such investigations are necessarily conducted “confidentially”, so the UNCRPD  has formally refused to confirm or deny that the UK is being investigated. However, a recording has emerged (one hour and twenty five minutes long, watch from one hour and four minutes) of a former CRPD member seemingly revealing that the inquiry has been launched.

Professor Gabor Gombos, who is the co-founder of Voice of Soul, Hungary’s first organisation for ex-users and survivors of Mental Health Institutions, and co-chair of the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, can be heard informing the audience that CRPD has “started its first inquiry procedure against the United Kingdom”.

He informs the Sixth International Disability Law Summer School at the National University of Ireland in Galway, June, that inquiries are only used where there are suspicions of “grave” violations of human rights. He says: “Where the issue has been raised and the government did not really make effective actions to fix the situation – it is a very high threshold thing – the violations should really be grave and very systemic.”

Earlier this year, the level of UK benefits paid in pensions, jobseeker’s allowance and incapacity benefits was deemed “manifestly inadequate” because it falls below 40% of the median income of European states, by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

The finding in an annual review of the UK’s adherence to the council’s European social charter is likely to provoke a fresh dispute between the government and European legal structures. Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, dismissed it as “lunacy”. Not an open, accountable Minister, or government, then.

The Council of Europe, which has 47 member states, said the conclusions were legally binding in the same way that judgements relating to the European Convention on Human Rights had to be applied by member states.

Aoife Nolan, professor of International Human Rights Law at the University of Nottingham and a trustee of Just Fair said government policies were compromising disabled people’s human rights.

“Not only do these policies cause significant hardship and anxiety, but they also amount to impermissible backward steps in relation to disabled people’s human rights, contrary to the UN human rights framework.”

The report was submitted to the United Nations, which, as I’ve previously outlined in earlier articles here, is in the process of reviewing UK compliance with its obligations to the rights of disabled people.

Last year, Amnesty International condemned the erosion of human rights of disabled people in UK, and the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights conducted an inquiry into the UK Government’s implementation of Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – the right to live independently and to be included in the community. The inquiry, which began in 2011, has received evidence from over 300 witnesses.

The inquiry highlighted just how little awareness, understanding and employment of the Convention there is by the Tory-led Government. Very few of the witnesses made specific reference to the Convention in their presented evidence, despite the inquiry being conducted by the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, with the terms of reference clearly framing the inquiry as being about Article 19 of the UNCRPD.

“This finding is of international importance”, said Oliver Lewis, MDAC Executive Director, “Our experience is that some Governments are of the view that the CRPD is nothing more than a policy nicety, rather than a treaty which sets out legal obligations which governments must fulfil.”

The report is particularly critical of the Minister for Disabled People (Maria Miller, at the time) who told the Committee that the CRPD was “soft law”. The Committee criticised this as “indicative of an approach to the treaty which regards the rights it protects as being of less normative force than those contained in other human rights instruments.” (See the full report.) The Committee’s view is that the CRPD is hard law, not soft law. 

Dr Hywel Francis MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “We are concerned to learn that the right of disabled people to independent living may be at risk through the cumulative impact of current reforms. Even though the UK ratified the UNCPRD in 2009 with cross-party support, the Government is unable to demonstrate that sufficient regard has been paid to the Convention in the development of policy with direct relevance to the lives of disabled people. The right to independent living in UK law may need to be strengthened further, and we call on the Government and other interested organisations to consider the need for a free-standing right to independent living in UK law.”

“The Government is meant to include disabled people in making sure people have their human rights upheld. We are concerned that a part of the Law on treating people equally and fairly (Equality Act section 149) does not say any more that disabled people should be involved. This is a step backwards.”

In other words, the Tory-led Coalition has quietly removed this part of the Equality Act.

The budget of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which was established by the Labour Party when they were drafting this flagship policy, is being reduced by over 60%, its staffing cut by 72%, and its powers restricted by the Coalition. Provisions that are being repealed by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (ERR) Bill include the duty on public authorities to have due regard to the need to reduce socio-economic inequalities.

Savage Legal aid cuts from April 2013 have also contributed significantly to creating further barriers to ensuring Equal Rights law protect us, and the Tory-driven Legal Aid Bill also contravenes our right to a fair trial under Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

This is not a coincidental multiple policy timeline, but rather a very coordinated political attack on potential legal challenges at a time when Tory-led severe and devastating multiple welfare and provision cuts have affected disabled people so disproportionately. The changes, which came into effect in April, will hit “the same group of disabled people over and over again”. 

Our political freedoms and human rights must not be subservient to Tory notions of economic success. Democracy is not about the private accumulation of wealth. It is about the wise use of the collective wealth for the common good of the public – that must extend to include ALL of our citizens. And a decent, civilised, democratic society supports its vulnerable members and upholds universal human rights.

We need to ask why our Government refuses to instigate or agree an inquiry into the substantial rise in deaths amongst sick and disabled people, as these deaths are so clearly a correlated consequence of this Government’s policies.

What kind of Government uses the media to scape-goat and stigmatise sick and disabled people, by lying and inventing statistics to “justify” the persecution of our most vulnerable citizens, and the withdrawal of their crucial lifelines and support?

One that does not value those lives, or regard them as having an equal worth with others.

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I’m adding this comment from Samuel Miller, as it highlights his ongoing, excellent, valuable and much appreciated work with the United Nations on our behalf, which is a most welcomed addition to our own ongoing submissions of evidence over the past couple of years:

A superlative piece, which I will bring to the attention of senior UN officials. Ahead of the September meeting of the Human Rights Council (see third paragraph of :-http://mydisabilitystudiesblackboard.blogspot.ca/2014/08/an-inopportune-time.html), I will shortly submit an inquiry request to the CRPD and Human Rights Council, petitioning them to open an investigation into Britain’s benefit-sanctioning regime. (At the request of Jorge Araya, UNCRPD Secretary, I am completing a bibliography of media articles on this subject, with particular focus on inappropriate sanctions.)

You already know my views on this matter: http://twishort.com/1RVfc.

My bibliographic assignment for the UNCRPD Secretary might be an indication that the UN has already opened an investigation into Britain’s benefit-sanctioning regime, but for the sake of certainty I’ll make that request myself.”

And further:  See my letter to High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, below. I included your superb article in my letter, Sue.

Subject: There is an urgent need for a UN investigation into the United Kingdom’s benefit-sanctioning regime

Samuel Miller 

Attachments3:58 PM 

High Commissioner Navi Pillay
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Palais Wilson
52 rue des Pâquis
CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland.

Dear Ms. Pillay,

I am a 57-year-old Disability Studies specialist and disability activist from Montreal, Canada who has been communicating frequently and voluntarily, since January 2012, to senior United Nations officials, on the welfare crisis for the United Kingdom’s sick and disabled.

(See attached, and the following:

http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1rp0uui,
http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1rtnc63,
http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1rtvfk5 )
.

It is my understanding that a 22-page letter, pointing out that cuts to social security benefits introduced by Iain Duncan Smith and enforced by his Department for Work and Pensions on behalf of the Coalition government may constitute a breach of the UK’s international treaty obligations to the poor, will also be discussed at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in New York, in September. It is signed by Raquel Rolnik, the former UN special rapporteur on adequate housing; Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, the former UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty; and Olivier De Schutter, the former UN special rapporteur on the right to food.

Could you please add, as an addendum to that letter, my partial bibliography on Britain’s benefit-sanctioning regime, which is attached below in PDF format. My views can be found on page two; I am extremely concerned about the British government’s soaring use of benefit sanctions, and the evidence from MPs and the Work & Pensions Committee, which provides oversight of the Department for Work and Pensions, is especially compelling and strongly suggests that the government is stitching-up benefit claimants and is involved in a cover-up of that fact. The refusal of the government to agree to the Work & Pensions Committee’s request for an independent inquiry into this matter only compounds suspicion.

In closing, I would be most appreciative if the Human Rights Council and the OHCHR would open an investigation into this matter. This article (https://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/uk-becomes-the-first-country-to-face-a-un-inquiry-into-disability-rights-violations/) is very worthy of your—and their—attention, as well.

I wish to congratulate you on your tenure as High Commissioner, and wish you every success in your future endeavors.

Warm regards

Samuel Miller

 

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Pictures courtesy of  Robert Livingstone 

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The last Labour government introduced a host of measures to strengthen the rights of our most vulnerable groups – in particular they protected the rights of disabled people. They formulated the Human Rights Act 1998. They passed the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, introduced the Equality Act 2010, formed the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and, in 2009, the Labour government signed the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.

The few successful cases we have seen brought against the Tories are down to these Labour laws. We mustn’t lose sight of that. And I’ve every faith that a Labour government will address the gross injustices extended by the draconian of this government, using the existing laws, and their currently proposed policy of prosecuting people for hate speech against the vulnerable.

 


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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Amnesty International has condemned the erosion of human rights of disabled people in UK

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Dr Simon Duffy recently wrote an outstanding briefing: How the cuts target disabled people which shows very clearly how the poorest and most vulnerable citizens are paying for an economic problem that they did not cause.

Austerity has never had any moral legitimacy, or indeed any other kind of basis for validity. We know it isn’t working. Osborne’s careful selection of “leading economists”  (who are mostly business leaders with vested interests, rather than economists of an  academic calibre) to endorse his very damaging austerity program meant that he carefully excluded those who presented valid criticisms of the centrepiece of Osborne’s strategy: accelerated austerity for purely ideological ends, (see also Minarchism: the Nightwatchman State), and it halted the recovery that happened under the previous Labour Government. Much of the case for austerity also rests on The great debt lie and the myth of the structural deficit.

The widespread and relentless use of stigmatising and divisive Tory propaganda in the media has undermined public support and sympathy for the sick and disabled people of the UK. Examples of such propaganda include the ad nauseum use of value-laden terms in political narratives and the media, such as “benefit cheat”, “dependency”, “entrenched”, “fraud”, “worklessness”, “addiction”, and more opprobrious examples such as “scrounger”, “skiver”, “workshy” (see Aktion Arbeitsscheu Reich and the origins of this word, it’s now being used very frequently in the media to describe unemployed and disabled people.) 

Several studies show that compared with the end of the Labour Government, such pejorative language use has risen dramatically, and Duncan Smith is the most frequent Parliamentary user of value-laden terminology.

At the AGM on 14th April this year, Amnesty International UK passed a resolution on the Human Rights of sick and disabled people in the UK. The resolution was proposed by Rick Burgess and Nancy Farrell of the WOW petition.

The resolution said:

“This AGM calls for urgent action to halt the abrogation of the human rights of sick and disabled people by the ruling Coalition government and its associated corporate contractors.

Calls for Amnesty International UK to urgently work with grassroots human rights campaigns by and for sick and disabled people, carers and their families. And to set up a specialist Disability Human Rights network … To protect the human rights of people with disabilities, ill people and carers to halt this regressive and lethal assault on our rights.”

The full resolution with supporting information is here.

It’s taken an organisation with the respect, gravitas and the impartiality of Amnesty International to recognise that the human rights of disabled people in the UK are being attacked by their own Government, and feels a need to act in our defence. That is very encouraging, and perhaps we have reached something of a turning point. I hope so.

It is my own hope that people will recognise that their prejudice and their own lack of support and sympathy for the persecuted poor disabled people in the UK has been fuelled by the insidious propaganda of the Tory-led Coalition to justify the transfer of wealth from the poorest, and from our publicly funded welfare and support services, to the very wealthy. Tory ideology is and always has been about handouts to the very wealthy, funded by the poor. That recognition ought to generate outrage and disgust, and a publicly consolidated, conscientious consensus of determination to ensure that this never happens again.

The years immediately after the Second World War marked a turning point in the history of human rights, as the world reeled in horror of the Nazi concentration camps, there came an important realisation that although fundamental rights should be respected as a matter of course, without formal protection, human rights concepts are of little use to those facing persecution. 

So in response to the atrocities committed during the War, the International Community sought to define the rights and freedoms necessary to secure the dignity and worth of each individual.  In 1948 the newly formed United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), one of the most important agreements in world history.

Shortly afterwards another newly formed international body, the Council of Europe, set about giving effect to the UDHR in a European context. The resulting European Convention on Human Rights was signed in 1950 and ratified by the United Kingdom, one of the first countries to do so, in 1951. At the time there were only ten members of the Council of Europe. Now 47 member countries subscribe to the European Convention, and in 1998 the Human Rights Act was passed by the Labour Party in order to “give further effect” to the European Convention in British law.

The current Government are most certainly outrageous propagandists, on par with the Nazi Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda, controlling the news media in particular, with the aim of shaping and controlling public opinions, attitudes and behaviours by a process of indoctrination, using übertreiben neo-liberalist dogmata to both create and justify neo-feudal subordination, oppressive hierarchical social structures and to signify the end of our humanist ideal and practice of shared citizenship.

We have an authoritarian Government in the UK currently that has scant regard for our established rights, and wants to see them gone, and they have systematically shut down all voices of opposition, via the media. An important question to ask is why.

We must recognise our past and remember our future. We must re-remember the basic humanist principle: we are all equally precious, each life has equal worth. A society that isn’t founded on those basic principles of decency, dignity and mutual respect is untenable and unthinkable.

Further Reading:

Simon Duffy – Who Really Benefits from Welfare?

Kittysjones – The UK Government have got it wrong about our Human Rights.

and – The Poverty of Responsibility and the Politics of Blame.

and – The ESA ‘Revolving Door’ Process, and its Correlation with a Significant Increase in Deaths amongst the Disabled.

Early day motion 295

The Black Triangle Campaign: United Kingdom Government Denounced for Crimes Against Disabled People to International Criminal Court in The Hague.


E-petition to
protect The Human Rights Act

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  With thanks to Robert Livingstone for his great pictures