Tag: Tracey Flynn

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give up my job as a mental health social worker because I was deemed too ill to work by my doctor, and my benefit was withdrawn – my only source of income.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

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

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The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights has 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.

The inquiry has 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 many 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 para. 23 in the report, the link is at the foot of this article.) 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”.

The threats to the legal infrastructure make it all the more important to mobilise all disadvantaged groups around equality as a fundamental human right.

The Report draws attention to several significant Human Rights issues, including:

  • the need for freestanding legislation to protect the right to independent living in UK law,
  • the effect of current reforms to benefits and services on the ability of disabled people to enjoy independent living,
  • the role played by the UNCRPD in policy development and decision-making at all levels of government,
  • the need for the use of equality impact assessments,
  • the effects of devolution on implementation of the UNCRPD, and
  • hate crime

The right to independent living does not exist as a free-standing right in UK law. Although it is protected and promoted to some extent by a matrix of rights, the Committee believes that this is not enough. It argues that the Government and other interested parties should immediately assess the need for, and feasibility of, legislation to establish independent living as a free-standing right. In addition, the Committee concludes that the UNCRPD is “hard law” and that the Government should fulfil their obligations under the Convention on that basis.

The Committee finds that:

  • reforms to benefits and services (let’s be frank here, they are not welfare “reforms”, they are cuts) risk leaving disabled people without the support they need to live independently;
  • restrictions in local authority eligibility criteria for social care support, the replacement of the Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payment, the closure of the Independent Living Fund and changes to housing benefit risk interacting in a particularly harmful way for disabled people;
  • people fear that the cumulative impact of these changes will force them out of their homes and local communities and into residential care.

It also finds that:

  • the Government has not conducted an Equality impact assessment of the cumulative impact of current “reforms” on disabled people. The Report urges them do so, and to report on the extent to which these “reforms “are enabling them and local authorities to comply with their obligations under the UNCRPD.
  • The Committee states that the Government should make a commitment to Parliament that they will give due consideration to the articles of the Convention when making legislation. The UNCRPD did not have a significant role in the development of policy and legislation, as is required by the Convention.

Furthermore, the Committee criticises changes to the duties of public authorities in England under the Equality Act 2010, which no longer require the production of equality impact assessments of changes in policy, nor the involvement of disabled people in developing policies which will affect them.

The Committee also expresses a major concern over a growing incidence of hate crime against disabled people and urges the Government take action to foster respect for the rights and dignity of disabled people.

Article 19 states that the Government must always ensure it “stops things getting worse.” This has NOT happened. The quality of so many sick and disabled people’s lives in this Country has been radically, significantly and DELIBERATELY reduced since the Tory-led Coalition took Office in 2010. This needs to change as a matter of urgency.

The Government’s “reforms” have led to a terrible increase in deaths amongst sick and disabled people, and we have already seen a significant rise in suicides that are directly linked with the Tory-driven austerity measures.

When we genuinely seek to improve the situation of the poorest and vulnerable, first of all we will need to spend time studying the privileged elite and their lifestyle choices of tax avoidance, their own economic lasciviousness and lack of capacity for personal and social responsibility.

We need to pay attention to Government handouts (of our money) to banks, private businesses and the wealthy: we need to appraise the dependency and culture of entitlement that these sponsored acts have fostered, and of course special focus should be on the amoral decisions and anti-social actions of the feckless, scrounging wealthy, and with particularly careful, critical scrutiny of the Government responsible for policies that re-distribute and concentrate our wealth and their advantage and power, therefore creating social divisions, inequality and poverty, perpetuating and extending it.

The Tory-led Coalition prefers to take money from the vulnerable, the sick and disabled, and hand it out to millionaires.

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 direct 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 some 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.

We are raising more money for the rich” – David Cameron, 12th December 2012


Further reading:

Archbishop Tartaglia adds to protest against Atos assessments which ‘trample on human dignity’

The European courts have their priorities wrong. Why aren’t they stopping the disability deaths? – Mike Sivier, Vox Political

Did They Hope We Wouldn’t Notice? Under The Smokescreen – John D Clare

The Coming Tyranny and The Legal Aid Bill – KittySJones

CRPD IS “HARD LAW” – UK PARLIAMENT

The Summary of the Report on Implementation of the Right of Disabled People to Independent Living: easy read version  and the full length report

644117_408620012540866_785481358_nMany thanks to Robert Livingstone for his outstanding art work.