Socialist Worker

UN officials slam Tories for breaching disabled people's human rights

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2569

Disabled People Against the Cuts protests in Parliament Square in April

Disabled People Against the Cuts protests in Parliament Square in April (Pic: Socialist Worker)


United Nations (UN) officials grilled Britain's government over its treatment of disabled people yesterday, Wednesday. 

It was part a hearing by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Geneva, Switzerland, set to continue on Thursday.

Rhian Davies, representing Disability Wales in Geneva, said the committee was "slaying" the government over its record.

Disabled UN rapporteurs asked why there are so many suicides by disabled people and why Tasers are used on people in secure mental health facilities. They questioned why disabled people aren't consulted on policies affecting them.

The hearing also focused on the gaps in equalities law—and the devastating succession of benefit cuts.

The committee previously found that Tory benefit cuts amounted to "grave and systematic violations" of disabled people's human rights.

Paula Peters from Disabled People Against the Cuts (Dpac) told Socialist Worker, “The human rights violations are ongoing. We are discriminated against on a daily basis.

“Disabled people are being plunged into poverty and denied the support that we need. More people are being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

“The government has ignored the fact that it was found guilty of grave and systematic violations. The cuts are still happening and still having an impact on people’s lives.”

The government refuses to recognise the accusations (see below).

But the committee said that Britain's actions weren't consistent with the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People. 

They said the very theory of disability enshrined in British equality law was medically-based, not socially-based as the convention requires. And that the practice is no better.

One rapporteur pointed to the cuts to local services helping disabled people navigate the system and obtain care. ”This is no way to implement the convention,” they said. 

Importantly, this means human rights are still being denied. Rapporteur Stig Langvard said, "Access to the human rights enshrined in the convention is too limited."

The committee had received more than 2,000 pages of evidence from Britain over the past two years, including from Dpac and other campaign groups.

Much of the evidence focuses on how cuts are undermining the right to live independently.

Paula said, “Look at the closure of the Independent Living Fund. We still haven’t had the right to independent living enshrined in law.”

Devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—where even the limited laws protecting disabled people in Britain do not apply—were also under scrutiny. But the buck stopped with the Tories. Langvard said, "Disability rights are the obligation of the state party. It cannot be decentralised."

While the evidence is damning, the UN’s condemnation has proved not to be enough to make the Tories change course. 

Their rotten record on disability is another reason to fight their austerity.


Tory spin can't hide vicious attack on benefits 

Responding to the accusations, the government claimed that it spends a higher proportion of GDP on disability and incapacity than any other G7 country except Germany.

But this is a deliberately misleading comparison.

First, the G7 is a very small group of countries with high GDPs. In larger categories such as the OECD Britain ranks much lower.

Second, different countries’ benefit systems put people in similar situations into different categories.

Many people receiving incapacity benefit—generally in the form of Employment Support Allowance (ESA)—in Britain might rely on a different type of payment in other countries.

For example, G7 member France spends less on incapacity but more on unemployment benefits and in total. Successive British governments have made it much harder to claim unemployment benefit.

So someone who lost their job and injured their back could legitimately be on ESA in Britain. Someone in the same position could equally legitimately be on an unemployment benefit in France.

Third, the total figure doesn’t capture people’s differing experiences. Small cuts can hit hard.

The closure of the Independent Living Fund had a devastating effect on the relatively small number of people with severe impairments who used it.

Yet it had a barely measurable effect on total spending.

The government failed to kick as many people off disability benefits with hated “fit for work” tests as it hoped. It’s trying to change that by hiring more people to contest appeals against its rulings.

But those who hung on had to undergo months of stress, doubt and bureaucracy first—and those who didn’t suffered badly, sometimes fatally.

This means the small change in spending belies an immense human impact.

The government has form in conjuring up dodgy international comparisons. This doesn’t get it off the hook for its vicious austerity.


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