I reported last August that the United Nations is to carry out an unprecedented inquiry into “systematic and grave violations” of disabled people’s human rights by the UK government. The UK is the first developed country to face such an inquiry, a fact which should be a source of shame for the Conservatives.
Many campaigners have been concerned for a long time by the disproportionate impact of the Tory-led cuts on disabled people. Many of those campaigners have themselves been adversely affected by the Tory’s draconian welfare cuts, myself included.
My own experiences of the Government’s Work Capability Assessment process led to a deterioration in my health in 2011. (I have lupus, a chronic and life-threatening autoimmune illness). I was wrongly assessed as fit for work, after being forced to give up my job as a mental health social worker because I was deemed too ill to work by my doctor, and my benefit was withdrawn – my only source of income. I appealed and after waiting nine months for the tribunal, I won.
Since then I have worked to support others going through this often harrowing and extremely punitive process. I co-run a group on Facebook called ESA/DLA, which offers support and free legal advice to sick and disabled people facing adverse circumstances because of the draconian Tory policies. The other administrators are Tracey Flynn, who is a qualified human rights specialist, Robert Livingstone, a friend and fellow campaigner, and Sonia Wilson, who originally set the group up. We are all ill and affected by disabilty. We welcome the United Nations inquiry, and both Tracey and I have made our own detailed submissions to the UN.
I reported in 2013 that the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights conducted an inquiry into the UK Government’s implementation of Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) – the right to live independently and to be included in the community. The inquiry which began in 2011 has received evidence from over 300 witnesses.
As I reported last month, the UN inquiry has taken place under the Convention’s Optional Protocol on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is a side-agreement to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It was adopted on 13 December 2006, and entered into force at the same time as its parent Convention on 3 May 2008. As of July 2015, it has 92 signatories and 87 state parties.
The Optional Protocol establishes an individual complaints mechanism for the Convention similar to that of other Conventions. But this Protocol also accepts individual economic, social and cultural rights. Parties agree to recognise the competence of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to consider complaints from individuals or groups who claim their rights under the Convention have been violated. The Committee can request information from and make recommendations to a party.
In addition, parties may permit the Committee to investigate, report on and make recommendations on “grave or systematic violations” of the Convention. The mechanism has allowed many disabled campaigners to submit reports and evidence to the United Nations, including myself.
The inquiry has arisen because of the hard work of many campaigners, since 2012. As well as collective contributions from prominent disability rights groups such as Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC), many other groups and independent campaigners have also worked very hard to make this inquiry happen, and have submitted evidence to the UN. That needs to be acknowledged, we need to be inclusive and celebrate the achievement of everyone who has collaborated and contributed to this.
I would like to say a special and personal thank you to Samuel Miller, a Canadian disability rights specialist who has supported many campaigners here in the UK, and who also recognised the retrogressive and draconian nature of Tory policies. Samuel has worked hard to submit reports and evidence to the UN over the last few years, he has included and incorporated the work of other campaigners, such as myself, as well as supporting other campaigners with their own independent submissions.
The WOW campaign also deserve a massive thank you for their work in raising awareness of the need for a cumulative impact assessment of the welfare “reforms”. Another thank you goes to Jane Young, for her work and leading authorship of the Dignity and Opportunity for All: Securing the rights of disabled people in the austerity era report for the Just Fair consortium.
A massive thank you to everyone who has contributed to awareness raising and campaigning for the rights of disabled people, many have worked so hard, independently, unsupported and with quiet determination and strength.
Every single contribution is precious and every effort is valued and deserves recognition, inclusion and thanks.
Another personal thanks goes to Dr Simon Duffy, director of think tank The Centre for Welfare Reform for his research and hard work. He demonstrated through independent research carried out since 2010 that the UK Government has targeted cuts on people in poverty and people with disabilities.
Many of us have consistently and repeatedly pointed to the disproportionate, negative impact of the bedroom tax on sick and disabled people; the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF); the political stigmatisation of sick and disabled people and the role played by the media in inflaming disability hate crime; the extent of cuts to local authority care funding; the government’s persistent unwillingness to carry out cumulative impact assessment of its “reforms” on sick and disabled people; the impact of benefit sanctions on disabled people; delays in benefit assessments; and the government’s reluctance to monitor disabled people found fit for work and who have lost their lifeline benefits – their only means of support.
Dr Duffy said:
“In fact the people with the most severe disabilities have faced cuts several times greater than those faced by cuts to the average citizen. This policy has been made even worse by processes of assessment and sanctions that are experienced as stigmatising and bullying.
The government has utterly failed to find jobs for the people they target – people who are often very sick, who have disabilities or who have mental health problems.
Instead we are seeing worrying signs that they are increasing rates of illness, suicide and poverty.”
In December 2014, the UN Human Rights Council created the role of UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities. Part of the Special Rapporteur’s broad mandate is to report annually to the Human Rights Council and General Assembly with recommendations on how to better promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities.
The Special Rapporteur, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, will be coming to the UK in the next couple of months to gather further evidence of the grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights.
United Nations (UN) investigations are conducted confidentially, I’ve already submitted evidence. Anyone wishing to make a submission may contact the UN here:
Catalina Devandas Aguilar
Special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities
Address: OHCHR-UNOG; CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Witnesses will be asked to sign an agreement to prevent them from speaking about the meeting with the UN rapporteurs, or identifying who gave evidence. The UN said that confidentiality is necessary to secure the co-operation of the host country and importantly, to protect witnesses.
Evidence submitted to the inquiry, its subsequent report to the UK government and the government’s response will not be published until the CRPD meets to discuss the inquiry in Geneva in 2017.
Images courtesy of Robert Livingstone