Tag: 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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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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It’s time government ministers stopped lying about their attack on disabled people

Image result for centre for welfare reform simon duffy

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the Universal Credit (UC) rules which will leave many disabled people who are new claimants, who experience a change in circumstances or a break in their claim, without their Disability Income Guarantee.

Those people who qualified for the support component of income-related Employment and Support Allowance and (ESA) are eligible for a disability premium (also called the Disability Income Guarantee.) However, as a result of the abolition of both the severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP) under UC rules, according to the disability charity, Scopethe cut to the disability income guarantee will see disabled people lose as much as £395 a month.

Two disabled people decided to take the government to court over the brutal cuts to their income, which has caused them severe hardship.

Earlier this month, in a landmark judgment, the High Court ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) unlawfully discriminated against two severely disabled men who both saw their benefits dramatically reduced when they claimed Universal Credit. 

Lawyers representing the men said the ruling showed that the new benefit system was “not working” for the disabled or other claimants, and urged the government to halt the roll-out and overhaul the system to meet peoples’ needs and not “condemn them to destitution”. The two claimants, known only as TP and AR, had both previously been in receipt of the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) and Enhanced Disability Premium (EDP), which were specifically aimed at ensuring the additional care and needs of severely disabled people living alone with no carer are met.

Both people were required to make a claim for universal credit when they moved into new local authorities where the controversial new benefit was being rolled out. According to both the men, they were advised by DWP staff that their benefit entitlement would not change. Yet despite repeated assurances from the government that “no one will experience a reduction in the benefit they are receiving at the point of migration to universal credit where circumstances remain the same”, both men saw an immediate drop in their income of around £178 a month when they were moved over to UC.

When they asked for the top up payments promised by the DWP, they were told that Government policy was that no such payments would be paid until July 2019 when managed migration is due to begin.

As both claimants testified to the court, the sudden drop of income had a devastating impact on them, both physically and psychologically. TP, a former City banker who suffers from a terminal illness, has been struggling to address his care needs, and AR, who suffers from severe mental health issues, has been unable to afford basic necessities.

Earlier this month, the DWP committed the government to ensuring that no severely disabled person in receipt of the SDP will be made to move onto universal credit until transitional protection is in place and also, made a commitment to compensate those like the claimants who have lost out.  

Despite this, following the judgment, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has sought permission to appeal, maintaining that there was “nothing unlawful” with the way the claimants were treated. 

Their lawyer, Tessa Gregory from the human rights team at Leigh Day, told the Court: “Nothing about either of the claimants’ disability or care needs changed, they were simply unfortunate enough to need to move local authorities into a Universal Credit full service area.”

The judge said the impact on the individuals was “clear”, and said the way they were transferred onto universal credit was “manifestly without reasonable foundation” and “failed to strike a fair balance”.

Following the ruling, Ms Gregory said: “This is the first legal test of the roll out of Universal Credit and the system has been found to be unlawfully discriminating against some of society’s most vulnerable. 

“Whilst we welcome the Government’s commitment to ensuring that no one in our client’s position will now be moved onto Universal Credit until top up payments are in place, it comes too late as it cannot make up for the months of suffering and grinding poverty our clients and many others like them have already had to endure.

“We call upon Esther McVey to compensate our clients and all those affected without any further delay, and urge her to focus on fixing Universal Credit rather than wasting more public funds appealing this court decision.

“Today’s decision shows again that Universal Credit is not delivering what was promised at the outset. It is not working. It’s not working for the disabled, it’s not working for parents, it’s not working for low-income and part-time employees and it’s not working for the self-employed.  

“The government needs to halt the rollout and completely overhaul the system to meet peoples’ needs, not condemn them to destitution. If this doesn’t happen further legal challenges will inevitably follow.

“Disability premiums are not a luxury. They play a crucial role in helping disabled people pay for essentials like food, clothing and bills. The needs of the people involved in this case haven’t changed, and yet they have lost more than £170 per month in support. This isn’t  fair.

Until the Government fully addresses these issues, it will unfairly penalise disabled people for moving over to universal credit.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “The court found in our favour on three of the four points raised by the claimant. We will be applying to appeal on the one point the court found against the Department. This government is committed to ensuring a strong system of support is in place for vulnerable people who are unable to work.”

Clearly the government is committed to trying it on by paying people as little as they can possibly get away with from the public fund. Deliberately cutting money from disabled peoples’ crucial lifeline support can hardly be described as “ensuring a strong system of support is in place”. This response indicates quite clearly that the cut was fully intentional on the part of the government.

The spokesperson added: “Last week, the Secretary of State announced that we will be providing greater support for severely disabled people as they move onto universal credit. And we have gone even further, by providing an additional payment to those who have already moved onto the benefit.”

Yes, because the cut has been ruled as discriminatory and unlawful, not because a choice was actually made to do so. Only the Conservatives could turn prejudice, discrimination and breaking the law into some kind of virtue.

Again this response indicates clearly that these were intended changes, and not merely  a consequence of administrative incompetence. There was not a shred of regret expressed by the government regarding the severe hardship these cuts have caused for disabled people. 

And this still leaves disabled people claiming the disability support component of Universal Credit for the first time without the Disability Income Guarantee. That is also discriminatory. 

The Department for Work and Pensions have claimed UC means that support is “focused on those who need it most”, but a government removing Severe Disability Premium and Enhanced Disability Premium, which is support designed to help severely disabled people who live without a carer – is pulling a basic safety net from citizens with the greatest needs. The premiums were also designed in part to address the problem of cumulative poverty for severely disabled people who cannot work, or who face disadvantage in the labour market because of additional needs and barriers. 

This cut will also potentially affect disabled lone parents who may rely on their benefit support to pay for support to shop, cook and wash, for example. The cut may mean that they will be forced to rely on their own children as carers.

Austerity has been carried disproportionately by disabled people

The UC system has made an estimated £11bn in savings, mainly through Treasury cuts to the original set level of universal credit rates – most notably through reductions to work allowances, which will save around £3bn, and the removal of £2bn in disability premium payments – but UC planning and delivery has also incurred £8.5bn in expenses.

Government statistics published last year show 47 per cent of people who were formerly receiving Disability Living Allowance (DLA) saw their support fall or stop altogether when they were reassessed for Personal Independent Payment (PIP).

Of a total of 947,000 claimants who were reassessed in the year up to October 2017, 22 per cent saw their support reduced, while a quarter were disallowed or withdrawn altogether — meaning 443,000 people will have had their claims reduced or removed.

However, the success rate for claimants when appealing Personal Independence Payments (PIP), for example, was 65% in 2016/17. The Mirror has recently reported that the rate of PIP appeal success has hit an all-time high of 71% for the first quarter of 2018.

Labour MP Rosie Duffield secured a debate (her first) which took place a couple of days ago (20 June) about the report by the UN committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The report said successive UK governments had committed “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights. The chair of the committee said the government had created a “human catastrophe” for disabled people. (You can read the full debate here).  

The debate addressed last autumn’s report on the UK’s implementation of UNCRPD, and the conclusion of the UN’s disability committee that the UK government should make more than 80 improvements to the ways its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.

In a briefing prepared ahead of the debate, the Equality and Human Rights Commission  the other official and independent bodies responsible for monitoring the UK’s progress in implementing the convention – had called on the UK government to describe how it would “comprehensively address” the UN committee’s findings. However, the government has not made any commitment to implementing the committee’s recommendations.

During the debate, Labour MPs accused Sarah Newton, Minister of State for the Department for Work and Pensions, and the government, of making disabled people a “forgotten class”; of allowing the DWP to “endlessly mistreat” them, and of creating a “national scandal”.

Newton dismissed Labour’s comments, using techniques of neutralisation that I’ve written about before. In short, Newton used a tactic that the Conservatives have used many times before – an indignant and outraged denial. She actually accused the opposition of ‘scaremongering’ again, (and by default, she attempted to discredit disabled citizens’ accounts of their own experiences, which of course flies in the face of democratic accountability). 

The Conservatives are denying responsibility for the consequences of their policies, denying harm, denying the victims and condemning the condemners. 

In her attempt to defend her government’s appalling record on cuts to social security, she also told MPs that there had been “no freeze in the benefits that disabled people receive”.

But this is not true, a fact that has been repeatedly pointed out to Tory ministers and her party.

Although disability living allowance (DLA), personal independence payment (PIP) and the employment and support allowance (ESA) support group top-up are exempt from the benefits freeze – which is set to last to 2020 – there is no exemption for the main component of ESA and the top-up paid to those in the ESA work-related activity group, which continues to be frozen.

Newton claimed that the UN, opposition and again, by default, disabled citizens, were making “irresponsible” allegations. And the courts. Again, this is a technique of neutralisation called “condemning the condemners”, used to ‘switch off ‘someone’s conscience when they plan, or have done, something to cause harm to others. The technique may also be used to push at the normative and moral boundaries of groups and the wider public.  (*See below for a full outline of the techniques).

Newton also said that the government was “very disappointed” that the UNCRPD did not “take on board […] the evidence that the government gave them. They did not acknowledge the full range of support.” That’s because it isn’t there.

The UNCRPD report presented extensive, meticulous evidence with their thorough report, gathered from disabled people that have been affected by the welfare cuts, campaign groups, charities and research academics. It also condemned the UK government’s attempts to misrepresent the impact of policies through “unanswered questions”, “misused statistics”, and a “smoke screen of statements.” 

It isn’t ‘scaremongering’ to express concern about punitive policies that are targeted to reduce the income of social groups that are already struggling because of limited resources, nor is it much of an inferential leap to recognise that such punitive policies will have some adverse consequences. 

Political denial is oppressive – it serves to sustain and amplify a narrow, hegemonic political narrative, stifling pluralism and excluding marginalised social groups, excluding qualitative and first hand accounts of citizen’s experiences, discrediting and negating counternarratives; it sidesteps democratic accountability; stultifies essential public debate; obscures evidence and hides politically inconvenient, exigent truths. Denial of causality does not reduce the probability of it, especially in cases where a correlation has been well-established and evidenced. The government have no empirical evidence to verify their own claims that their punitive policies do not cause harm and distress.

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, citizen’s accounts of the impacts of policies ought to matter.

However, 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 and neutralisation 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.

Damian Green, who was the work and pensions secretary at the time the UN report was published. dismissed the highly critical findings . He said, shamefully, that the report was “patronising and offensive” and presented an outdated view of disability in the UK. He said Britain was “a world leader in disability rights and equality”.

But many of us – disabled citizens, disability activists, campaigners, charities and researchers – welcomed the report, saying it accurately highlighted the real economic and social hardships faced by disabled people after years of harsh spending cuts to social security and social care.

The shadow work and pensions secretary at the time, Debbie Abrahams, said the UN report was “crystal clear” in its identification of UK government failures. “It confirms that, despite Theresa May’s warm words, this government is failing sick and disabled people,” she said.

The UN committee said a range of measures introduced since 2010, including the bedroom tax and cuts to disability benefits and social care budgets, had disproportionately and adversely affected disabled people.

Spending cuts had negatively affected the rights of disabled people to live independently, to work and to achieve an adequate standard of living, the report said. The UN urged UK ministers to ensure the rights of disabled people were upheld.

Green said: “At the heart of this report lies an outdated view of disability which is patronising and offensive. We strongly refute its findings. The UN measures success as the amount of money poured into the system, rather than the work and health outcomes for disabled people. Our focus is on helping disabled people find and stay in work, whilst taking care of those who can’t.”

The government said at the time that it spent about £50bn a year to support sick and disabled people – a bigger proportion of GDP than countries including Canada, France and the US.

However, this is plainly untrue. In 2015, the government’s own figures show that even before some of the cuts were implemented, the UK was ninth out of 28 countries, when ranked in terms of the size of its social protection expenditure as a proportion of its gross domestic product (GDP). 

In fact Newton’s highly selective statistical ‘data’ was contradicted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) who also reported that the UK actually spends less than France, as well as Norway, Germany and Spain on disability benefits.

Furthermore, Newton’s figure includes amounts that are not directly related to disability benefit, such as carers’ allowance, housing benefit, council tax allowance, and it also includes some NHS spending.

The government actually spent £39 billion on disability, incapacity and industrial injury benefits in 2017/18. That’s 76% of the total £51 billion that Newton claimed was spent.

Abrahams said the report echoed warnings Labour had been making since 2011 about the effects of the government’s policies on disabled people. It certainly echoed warnings many of us have been making – in my own case, since the welfare “reforms” in 2012.

“The UN committee is clear that its report examines the cumulative impact of legislation, policies and measures adopted from 2010 to October 2016, so the government’s claim that it is outdated does not stand up to scrutiny.

“I am also concerned that the government is labelling the report as patronising, when they are the ones dismissing the concerns raised by disabled people who helped instigate the inquiry in the first place.”

This dismissal is despite being presented with evidence from a wide range of organisations as well as disabled citizens, to whom Conservative policies are causing harm and distress.  Yet the government continue to distance themselves from the consequences of their own decision-making, opting to deny them instead. Those are not the reasonable actions of an accountable, democratic government. 

Decades of findings in sociology and psychology tell us that as soon as a social group are defined as an outgroup, the public start to see them differently. Because politicians have stereotyped people who claim welfare support, portraying only negative characteristics, the public also perceive only those characteristics. The government, with the help of the media, has purposefully portrayed people claiming welfare support as folk devils: lazy, dishonest, stupid and as scroungers, and so on. This is profoundly dehumanising. 

The people being harmed by policies have become outsiders, they’ve been pushed out of the circle of our moral community. The government clearly don’t think of the people enduring terrible distress and hardship as experiencing the same range of autonomy, needs, thought, emotion and motivations that they do; they don’t imagine them feeling things in the same way that they do. This disconnection – a failure to recognise common human characteristics in the other – means that they are denied some measure of empathy, and consequently a sense of ethical and democratic obligation and inclusion.

The Conservatives talk a lot about “evidence-based policy”, but they don’t walk the talk. A weight of evidence has highlighted the cruel, draconian effects of the Tories’ social polices. The government have chosen to deny and ignore it. 

This lack of appropriate response indicates a deliberately prejudiced, vicious attack on a significant minority of the population, which the government has absolutely no intention of stopping or putting right any time soon.

 

You can watch the whole debate that was secured by Rosie Duffield here

 

* Techniques of neutralisation: 

Used to switch off the conscience when someone plans or has done something to cause harm to others. 

The idea of techniques of neutralisation was first proposed by 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 their illegitimate actions, and Alexander Alverez further identified these methods used at a socio-political level in Nazi Germany 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, stigma, 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.

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.

 


 

I write voluntarily, to 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.

DonatenowButton


 

Our social security has been redesigned. It’s now a welfare deterrent

PIP

Hunger and desperation used quite ruthlessly by a “health care professional” to controversially justify refusing a disability support claim. Access to food banks can only happen if you are referred by a professional, such as a doctor or social worker. Furthermore, you can generally have a maximum of only 3 referrals per year. The ESA and PIP eassessment guidance says that a person must be able to walk the distance specified “reliably, consistently, safely and in a timely manner.”

universal-credit.jpg
Iain Duncan-Smith struggled financially once, but then he got off his backside and was given a Tudor mansion by his father-in-law, the fifth Baron Cottesloe, which proves rewards come to those prepared to make an effort.  Reuters.

“Universal Credit doesn’t go far enough – work won’t pay until people are running naked through stinging nettles to get their benefits.

As Universal Credit develops, it can encourage other skills, so if your electricity has been cut off, you have to screw your application form into a ball and dribble it through a line of cones before kicking it into a bucket. That way you can soon come off benefits and earn £5m a year as a winger for Manchester City.” Mark Steel, writing for the Independent

The Conservative notion of “deserving” and “undeserving” poor is a false dichotomy. No-one deserves to be poor

“Deserving” is a politically divergent word if there ever was one. The Conservatives have used it to apparently wage an all out class war, using austerity as a smokescreen. They certainly don’t take the side of the proverbial underdog. In fact the more need you have, the less this government considers you “deserving” of support and sympathy.

Policies aimed at people with what are politically regarded as “additional needs” are largely about ensuring your compliance, conformity and commitment to “behavioural change”, on the assumption that people somehow erroneously “choose” to need financial support. Claiming any form of state support has come to entail a deeply hostile and extremely challenging process that is causing psychological distress and often, physical harm, to our most vulnerable citizens. There are plently of examples of cases where this has happened documented on this site alone.

Such a disciplinarian mindset is now embedded in social security policy, rhetoric and administration. But we’ve been here before, back in 1832, when the Poor Law Amendment Act was aimed at categorising and managing “deserving” and “undeserving” poor. Those considered “deserving” were unfortunately placed in workhouses and punished by a loss of citizens freedoms and rights, in order to “deter” people from being poor. (See also The New New Poor Law, 2013.)

I’ve yet to come across a single case of someone being punished out of their poverty. Someone ought to send every government minister a copy of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, and remind them all that our post-war social security was originally designed and calculated to ensure people could meet the costs of basic survival needs, such as for food, fuel and shelter.

It was recognised back then that people struggling with basic survival requirements were highly unlikely to fulfil other higher level psychosocial potential, such as looking for work. If we want people to find work, we must first ensure they have the necessary resources to do so. And that the work available will make a real difference to their standard of living. 

Poor people don’t create poverty, state decision-making does. The economy and labor market conditions do. The punitive approach to poverty didn’t work in the 1800s and 1900s, and it isn’t working and can’t possibly be made to work now. It’s an ideological dead horse. It died because of the brutal and unrelentless use of too much political brutality, the heavy hand of the state offering all stick and no carrots for poor people.

Being poor is itself punishing enough. Now the poor are being punished for being punished with poverty.  No-one chooses to be poor, our overarching socioeconomic organisation is founded on the very principles of competition. Neoliberalism invariably means there will be a few “winners” (1%) and a lot of “losers” (99%). It’s embedded in the very nature of such a competitive system that emphasises individualism, rather than collectivism, to create increasing inequality and poverty. 

It’s worth considering that people on low pay, or with part-time hours in work are also being sanctioned, if they claim “top up” benefits to supplement their exploitative rate of pay or poor and unstable work conditions. This fact is hardly a good advertisment for the government’s claim of “making work pay”, unless of course we refer back to the poor law reform “deterrence” of 1834. Apparently, making welfare sufficiently punitive to deter people from claiming it is how we make work pay, not by raising wages in line with the cost of living. Silly me. I mistook a propaganda soundbite at face value. It seems old ideolologies die hard, with a vengeance.

Apparently it’s an individual’s fault for not “progressing in work”. Nothing to do with increasingly precarious employment situations, executive decision-making, or a deregulated labor market, of course. 

In-work benefits have effectively subsidised employers’ wage costs. Yet low paid workers are being punished by the government for this state of affairs.

It’s not so long ago that we had a strong trade union movement that used collective bargaining as a method of improving wages and working conditions. But the free market ideologues don’t like trade unions, or welfare provision. They like a neat, tidy and very small, limited interventionist state. Or so they claim.

The paradox, of course, is that in order to reduce supportive provisions, and dismantle the welfare state in order to fulfil the terms and conditions of neoliberalism, the government has to implement strategies that ensure citizen compliance. Many of those strategies are increasingly authoritarian, rather than “non interventionist”, in nature.

It’s not the welfare state, but the state of welfare that is the pressing problem

Private companies have become more firmly embedded in the core concerns of all departments of government in designing and delivering on public and social policies, and policies have become increasingly detached from public need, and more directed at meeting private interests, largely involving making huge and private profits. The Conservatives don’t seem to consider that rogue private businesses like G4S, Atos, Maximus, A4E, and so on, are extensions of the state, fulfilling what are, after all, state-determined functions.

Of course this creates an imbalance between the role of the welfare state in aiding private capital and its role in maintaining and supporting labor, and fulfilling the basic needs of citizens. Corporate welfare underpins neoliberal economies, and it costs the public far more than reduced public provisions promises to save.

In January 2016, the National Audit Office (NAO) published its evaluation of the DWP’s health and disability assessment contracts. It said the cost of each Work Capability Assessment (WCA) had risen from £115 under Atos to £190 under Maximus. The report also states that only half of all the doctors and nurses hired by Maximus – the US outsourcing company brought in by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to carry out the assessments – had even completed their training.

The NAO report summarised:

5.5
Million assessments completed in five years up to March 2015

65%
Estimated increase in cost per Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) assessment based on published information after transfer of the service in 2015 (from £115 to £190)


84%
Estimated increase in healthcare professionals across contracts from 2,200 in May 2015 to 4,050 November 2016

£1.6 billion
Estimated cost of contracted-out health and disability assessments over three years, 2015 to 2018

£0.4 billion
Latest expected reduction in annual disability benefit spending

13%
Proportion of ESA and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) targets met for assessment report quality meeting contractual standard (September 2014 to August 2015).

Before 2010, cuts to disability support were unthinkable. Now the Treasury regards our provision as their pocket money for tax cuts for the very wealthy

This summary reflects staggering economic incompetence, a flagrant, politically motivated waste of tax payers money and even worse, the higher spending has not created a competent or ethical assessment framework, nor is it improving the lives of sick and disabled people. Some people are dying after being wrongly assessed as “fit for work” and having their lifeline benefits brutally withdrawn. Maximus is certainly not helping the government to serve even the most basic needs of sick and disabled people.

However, Maximus, and other private companies involved in the delivery of welfare programmes are serving the needs of a “small state” doctrinaire neoliberal government, and making a massive profit in doing so. It would cost much less to simply pay people the support they were once simply entitled to. However, the Conservatives are systematically dismantling the UK’s social security system, not because there is an empirically justifiable reason or economic need to do so, but because the government has purely ideological, anticollectivist prescriptions. 

As well as the heavy cost of each assessment to the public purse, there is also the considerable cost of many tribunals, because of the many “wrong decisions”on the part of the Department for Work and Pensions. That’s despite the fact that the government introduced another layer of bureacracy in the form of “mandatory review” in order to deter appeals. People going through mandatory review for a decision to stop their ESA cannot claim ESA again until after mandatory review (if you need to appeal, you can claim ESA once you have the review decision), and so are forced to either try and claim Universal Credit, going 6 weeks at least without any support, or to wait out the Review outcome, which has no set time limit, but usually takes at least 6 weeks for the decision about the original decision. Which is usually the same decision as the original decision, due to outrageous targets that were revealed in the department’s response to a Freedom of Information request, that stated staff conducting mandatory reconsideration reviews were held to a “key performance indicator” that said “80 per cent of the original decisions are to be upheld”.

This is a government that claims social security is “unsustainable” and a “burden” on the public purse, yet has no problem with an extraordinary profligacy with public funds and dispossessing tax payers when it comes to implementing “cost-cutting” and draconian welfare “reforms.” Conservative anti-welfare dogma and traditional prejudices are costing the UK billions of pounds. 

The Tories are all about ideology and not facts. As two authors astutely noted recently, the government seems to be driven by an idea that creating the conditions of purgatory for those they consider “undeserving” will somehow cleanse, redeem and purify people into not being so sinfully poor.  So it’s not actually “welfare” any more, but rather, it’s a “correctional” institution, for coercing citizens into conformity, compliance and a class contingent meekness, with a liberal dash of the protestant work ethic in with the catholic inquisition flavoured ingredients in the mix. Yes, the nasty authoritarian Conservatives really do think like this.

Disability support is virtually impossible to access for many people that doctors consider severely disabled, and involves a measured and ritualised humiliation. The assessments are solely designed to look for “discrepancies” in people’s accounts of how their illness/disability impacts on your day to day living. In other words, it is aimed at looking for reasons, no matter how flimsy, to ensure that welfare support for disabled and ill people is pretty much unobtainable.

Those questions you are asked by the (inappropriately named) Health Care Professional (HCP) that seem like innocent conversation, such as “Do you watch TV? Do you like the Soaps?” translate onto a report that says “Can sit unaided for at least half an hour”. “Do you have a pet?”becomes “Can bend to feed cat/dog.” “Do you use the internet at all?” becomes “No evidence of focus or cognitive difficulties, adequate hand dexterity.”

If you wear any jewellry, that may be noted and used as evidence that you have dexterity in your hands, even if you have severe arthritis and can’t fasten your buttons or a zip,  you won’t be asked if you ever remove your locket/ring/earrings. It will be assumed that you do. It’s a kind of opportunism of neglect and assumption used by HCPs to justify refusing some elements of PIP, or all of your claim. Or it’s the difference between being placed in the ESA Support Group, being placed in the WRAG on the lower award, or simply being refused an award altogether, and told you are “fit for work”. 

If you are unfortunate enough to need a referral to a food bank, and you actually manage to get to the appointment,  because you are desperate, that may also be used as evidence that you can walk further than 200 or 500 metres, even if you can’t, and managed to get a lift there and back.

Challenging such ridiculous assumptions wears you down. It creates distress when someone acting as a gatekeeper to the support you need dismisses your medical reports and account with such disdain, just stopping short of calling you a liar. Challenging the reasons provided for the DWP refusing you a PIP or ESA award is tedious, very stressful and time consuming and tiring. I’m sure that if you manage to do so successfully, even the fact that you managed to collate evidence, ask you doctor for supportive evidence and so forth may be used as evidence that you can function too well to warrant any support. If you demonstrate any ingenuity in coping with your condition, you’ve basically had it.

Once upon a time, support for disabled people was designed to help us remain independent, and to enable us to participate in society. PIP is non means-tested and people can claim it (allegedly) whilst in work.

However, I worked for social services until I became too ill to work. I loved my job, and my salary was very good, too. It was a terribly dehumanising experience to have to face the fact I was no longer well enough and fit for my post. 7 years later, at my PIP assessment, it was decided that my previous job “proved” that I don’t currently have “any cognitive problems.”

That’s despite the assessor acknowledging  in the report I now even need an aid to remember to take my treatments and medications, and that during the appointment, I had to be reminded several times what I’d been asked, as I kept forgetting what I was supposed to be answering. I have systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and cognitive dysfunction is very commonly experienced  symptom of this illness

People have even been refused PIP at appeal because they “spend too much time on Facebook.” Too much for what, exactly? Last time I checked, there were no laws in place that meant sick and disabled citizens were prohibited from using social media. Since when did it become acceptable for government officials to endorse and promote the social exclusion of disabled people online? 

But apparently, contradictions and paradoxes are allowed if you happen to be the assessing HCP. The report said that I was “thin” abut “adequately nourished”. She didn’t check my vitamin and mineral levels at all. Nor did she ask me about what I ate and how often. She just said that the aids I have were “adequate” (a perch stool, easy to use tin opener and specially designed easy to use cutlery, which are not especially designed for disabled people, but are easier for me to use because of the handle design and the steak knives instead of standard ones.)

What’s the point of welfare “support” if so few people are able to access it, despite their obvious need?

The United Nations (UN) inquiry into the allegations many of us made regarding the systematic abuse of the human rights of disabled people in the UK has exposed the multiple injustices of targeted cuts and the disproportionate burden of austerity heaped on sick and disabled people, their carers and their families, evidencing and detailing the effects of a range of policy measures affecting them that have been introduced since 2010. These include the bedroom tax and cuts to disability benefits, funds to support independence and social care.

The report concludes that the overall effect of what is now an essentially punitive welfare regime, which has been based almost entirely on unevidenced political claims and assumptions, has had an extremely detrimental and regressive effect on the rights of disabled people, to live independently, to meet their basic needs, to seek and stay in work,  and to be able to live an ordinary life as citizens.

The UN report documented multiple violations of disabled people’s rights, including the way that they are politically portrayed as being lazy and a “burden on taxpayers”, the harm to health caused by unfair assessments, the cuts to legal aid and curtailed access to justice, the imposition of the bedroom tax and the ending of the Independent Living Fund.

I wrote a lengthy article about the unsurprising but nonetheless disquieting report findings and recommendations, as I read throughit at the time, here.

The government have of course indignantly refused to accept the findings of the UN, or accept the accounts of individuals and campaigners like me, disability groups and charities, and other organisations. That’s because the government prefer to cling relentlessly to free market dogma and their traditional prejudices rather than face empirical evidence, facts and truths.

The days of genuine support, to ensure disabled people can maintain dignity and independence, and to be socially, economically, politically and culturally included, are gone. PIP and ESA focus exclusively on what you can’t do: on “functionality”. If you walk your dog or take a holiday, this is taken to somehow indicate that you are not ill or disabled enough to need support. In fact the media turns you into some kind of nasty folk devil and state parasite for trying to live as normal life as possible. If the government and media had their way, we would be trapped indoors in abject misery, or institutionalised.

How dare we try to live an ordinary life.

The government have formulated draconian policies aimed particularly at disabled people. And unemployed people, low paid people, and young people. And migrants. And old people who, like many disabled people, have paid in contributions towards a welfare system, should they need it, but now they also have to work until they drop.

Hey, and you thought governments are elected to meet public needs and spend our money wisely? No, apparently we’re here to serve government needs, to behave exactly as the Conservatives think we should. 

Welfare as a deterrent to… well, welfare.

 

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And social security has been redesigned to punish those citizens who have the misfortune to find themselves in poverty.

 


 

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Fear of losing disability support led a vulnerable man to a horrific suicide

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The government have persistently denied that there is a “causal link” between their welfare “reforms” (a Conservative euphemism for savage cuts) and an increase in suicides, premature deaths, psychological distress and severe hardship. However, a number of researchers and many campaigners have demonstrated a clear correlation that the government have so far refused to investigate further. Correlation quite often implies a causal relationship, and as such, requires further research.

Each case that has been presented to the government as evidence that their policies are causing severe harm has been dismissed as “anecdotal”.

Dr Simon Duffy, Director of the Centre for Welfare Reform said: “It is not enough to just stop introducing new policies to attack the rights and lives of disabled people and the poorest in society. These policies have been in place for six years and many are designed to increase poverty year on year. The Government should apologise for the harm it has caused since 2010, calculate the full impact of cuts that targeted the most disadvantaged and begin a full programme of reparations.”

This is the third harrowing article I have written this week about the devastating impact of the Conservatives’ punitive welfare policies on some of our most vulnerable citizens. I wish with all my heart that this is the last such article.

However, we have a government that has casually and systematically transgressed the human rights of disabled people, and then casually denied that they have done so. 

There will continue to be a need of witnesses like myself and other campaigners until the political denial stops.

Last month, an inquest in Ipswich heard how Peter, a disabled man, struggling to cope with mental health problems, committed suicide by setting himself on fire because of fear that he would lose his lifeline support, following his compulsory re-assessment for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

The government introduced the controversial PIP to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in order to save costs and to “target those most in need” in 2013.  

Peter Sherwood set fire to himself in front of horrified onlookers in Lowestoft town centre on September 4, 2015.  The retired builder died in Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford, which has a specialist burns unit, on September 8, 2015, following the horrific incident in Lowestoft town centre four days before.

Peter had received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions, informing him that his DLA was ending and that he needed to reapply for PIP.

He suffered with a recurrent depressive disorder and psychosis. Peter had attempted to take his own life on a number of occasions previously. He also had a condition called tardive dyskinesia, which caused involuntary movements to his mouth and is a known side-effect of anti-psychotic medications.

Giving evidence at the inquest, Lucinda Stapleton, care coordinator from the Waveney Recovery Team, said this had affected Peter’s self-confidence as he was worried people were laughing and staring at him when he left the house.

In a statement read during the hearing, Mr Sherwood’s niece, Sarah Wilby, said: “I knew he was feeling a bit low the last time I saw him, which was two weeks before he died. He held me close on the sofa and told me he loved me.

“He was a loving person and had a great sense of humour.

He was angry at many things in life, but could put a good front on.

“I loved him very much and miss him dreadfully.”

Ms Wilby said she was shocked at the drastic way her uncle took his own life.

She added: “He seemed to want to make some kind of a statement, but I don’t know what.”

During the inquest Ms Wilby said that Peter was claiming Disability Living Allowance but not long before his death he received a letter informing him he needed to reapply for Personal Independence Payment, which she believes contributed to his low mood at that time.

She said: “I personally think quite an underlying cause of his anger was the change in benefits.

“Knowing Peter as we did that would have had a huge impact on him.”

Paul Anderson, a community support worker for the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, said Peter had claimed that the Government was trying to take money off him.

The Coroner, Peter Dean, read statements from witnesses, who described seeing Peter spraying something on the pavement starting with the letter ‘h’ with an aerosol can.

The inquest heard passer-by William Groves asked Peter if he was a street artist, to which he replied “no, I’m a suicide artist”.

Peter then poured liquid over his head and set himself on fire using a lighter.

Members of the public tried to douse the flames by first throwing their jackets onto Peter, and then using a fire extinguisher from a nearby shop.

Police at the scene reported that Peter had muttered the word “humanity” to them a couple of times following the incident.

On September 4, 2015, Peter was visited at home by the community mental health team and he had expressed plans to end his life.

An urgent appointment was made for Peter to see a psychiatrist the following week, but it was tragically too late.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust has since updated its criteria of when patients should be referred to the 24-hour crisis team, following its routine investigation into Peter’s death.

The medical cause of death was given as 75% non-survivable full thickness burns, and mental health concerns.

The coroner’s conclusion was suicide.

If you are experiencing distress and feel suicidal, please don’t suffer in silence. The Samaritans have launched a free telephone national helpline number, 116 123. 

People who are going through a difficult time can access the service round the clock, every single day of the year.

This number is free to call from both landlines and mobiles, including pay-as-you-go mobiles. You do not need to have any credit or call allowance on your plan to call 116 123.

 

Related

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

New discriminatory regulations for PIP come into effect today

Disabled mum took fatal overdose after she was refused PIP

Vote Labour to uphold the rights of disabled people – our letter to the Guardian


 

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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Vote Labour to uphold the rights of disabled people – our letter to the Guardian

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The following letter was published in the Guardian today, written and signed by a group of academics, professionals, campaigners and grassroots activists who work together cooperatively.

We collaborate to fulfil our mutual aims of achieving a progressive, civilised, just and safe society for all. We hope to do this by ensuring that the society we are a part of is democratic and fully inclusive: we want a civilised society that observes and meets its human rights obligations on behalf of all social groups. This isn’t happening currently. (See: UN’s highly critical report confirms UK government has systematically violated the human rights of disabled people).

As an independent researcher, writer, campaigner, and as a disabled person, I am very proud to be included among them. 

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Many disabled people see Labour’s policies as a lifeline, say the 30 signatories to this letter. 

For chronically ill and disabled people, recent years have been a disaster. The UN recently found “reliable evidence that the threshold of grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities has been met” (Report, 8 November 2016).

We have been forced through a work capability assessment that the government’s own expert adviser described as “inhumane”, and which in 2015 was found to be associated with an additional 599 suicides.

Many needing help are now forced through another persecutory assessment – the personal independence payment – designed to reduce the numbers qualifying for help by half a million.

Social care has been so savagely cut that some young disabled must wear incontinence pads for lack of toileting assistance. People can’t take any more of this.

Many disabled people are not party-political, but see Labour’s policies for disabled people as a lifeline – envisioning a society where people are treated as human beings deserving of respect, equality and a decent life. Please, don’t endorse recent human-rights abuses; endorse the human rights of disabled people by registering, and by voting Labour on 8 June.

Paul Atkinson Jungian psychotherapist
Stef Benstead Spartacus Network
Peter Beresford Co-chair, Shaping Our Lives
Gary Bourlet Founder, People First Movement in England
Dr Emma Bridger Research fellow in psychology
Professor Woody Caan Journal of Public Mental Health
Dr Kelly Camilleri Registered clinical psychologist
Merry Cross
Dr David Drew Labour Parliamentary candidate for Stroud
Nick Duffell Psychohistorian
Dr Simon Duffy Centre for Welfare Reform
Dr Dina Glouberman Skyros Holistic Holidays
Catherine Hale Chronic Illness Inclusion Project
AC Howard DWPexamination.org – For The UK’s Disabled Community
Chris Johnstone General practitioner
Sue Jones Psychologists Against Austerity, researcher and writer, campaigner
Jayne Linney Disability activist
Alec McFadden TUC Salford
Helen McGauley Trainee clinical psychologist, Lancaster University
Beatrice Millar Person-centred counsellor/psychotherapist
Rev Paul Nicolson Taxpayers Against Poverty
Gavin Robinson Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy
Professor Andrew Samuels University of Essex
Nicola Saunders Psychotherapist
Martyn Sibley Disability blogger
Mike Sivier Vox Political
Professor Ernesto Spinelli
Mo Stewart Independent researcher, disability studies
Gail Ward
Dr Jay Watts Queen Mary, University of London
Dr Claudia GillbergSenior Research Associate in Education; Fellow at Centre for Welfare Reform and Disability Rights Activist

Dr Richard House Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy

 

Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. The budget didn’t do me any favours at all.

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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