A UN inquiry has found that the UK government is guilty of “systematic violations” of the rights of disabled people. However, the government have already made it clear that they will not accept, or act upon, the findings.
The Committee on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities was asked by a number of UK-based disabled people’s organisations in 2013 to look at the effect of austerity and benefits cuts on disabled people.
The committee gathered written and oral evidence before writing a report and giving the UK government the opportunity to respond.
The committee’s findings were overwhelmingly critical of the DWP, with an overall conclusion that “the threshold of grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities has been met”.
The committee held that disabled claimants have been routinely depicted as lazy and fraudulent:
“Persons with disabilities have been regularly portrayed negatively as being dependent or making a living out of benefits, committing fraud as benefit claimants, being lazy and putting a burden on taxpayers, who are paying “money for nothing”.
The UN also considered that assessments for benefits were damaging claimants’ health:
“The Committee observes that persons with disabilities who have undergone functional assessments aimed at determining their eligibility for social benefits felt that they were merely processed rather than being listened to or understood . . . The Committee also collected evidence about persons with disabilities whose mental health condition had severely deteriorated as a result of the aforementioned factors.”
The committee was critical of the difficulty that claimants have challenging benefits decisions:
“Evidence indicates that legal aid to challenge administrative decisions ending or curtailing their benefits before first-tier tribunals has been restricted. Legal aid for cases before those tribunals has also been curtailed. Similarly, access to review by an independent and impartial tribunal has been restricted by the introduction of mandatory reconsideration procedures before the same administrative entity that has ruled on benefits.”
Particular criticism was reserved for the effects of the bedroom tax on disabled claimants:
“Evidence indicates that persons with disabilities affected by cuts in their housing benefits have undergone high levels of stress, anxiety and depression as a consequence of the shortfalls in their budget and the costs to recover financial stability. In many cases, the implementation of welfare measures has reinforced the dependency of persons with disabilities on informal and/or family care and has hindered deinstitutionalization plans.”
The closure of the independent living fund was also heavily criticised:
“The Committee finds that former Fund claimants have seen the support they received from local authorities substantially reduced, to the extent that their essential needs in areas such as daily personal care are not sufficiently covered.”
As a result of their investigation, the UN came to the conclusion that:
“Consequently, the Committee considers that there is reliable evidence that the threshold of grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities has been met in the State party.”
The committee made a large number of recommendations as to measures that should be introduced by the government, including:
- “Conduct a cumulative impact assessment of the measures adopted since 2010, referred to in the present report, on the rights to independent living and to be included in the community, social protection and employment of persons with disabilities.
- “Ensure that public budgets take into account the rights of persons with disabilities, that sufficient budget allocations are made available to cover extra costs associated with living with a disability and that appropriate mitigation measures, with appropriate budget allocations, are in place for persons with disabilities affected by austerity measures.
- “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.
- “Take appropriate measures to combat any negative and discriminatory stereotypes or prejudice against persons with disabilities in public and the media, including that dependency on benefits is in itself a disincentive of employment.
- “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.”
“Patronising and offensive”
In its response to the UN report, the government made it clear that they disagreed with all the committee’s findings and do not intend to implement its recommendations, saying:
“The United Kingdom is proud of its record in supporting disabled people to lead more independent lives and participate more fully in society.”
And today, work and pensions secretary Damian Green dismissed the report entirely, saying:
“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.”