The United Nations (UN) have published a report following investigation into the allegations of “grave and systematic” abuses of the human rights of disabled people in the UK. Campaigners and disabled people’s groups contacted the UN, making formal complaint about violations of disabled people’s rights and raising serious concerns about the consequences of the welfare reforms for disabled people, in 2012, which triggered the inquiry under article 6 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Many of us also made further submissions, supporting the inquiry with evidence. The report has been welcomed by disability campaigners, with many saying the findings come as no surprise.
The report said “The Committee is impressed by the amount of data collected by stakeholders who contributed to the inquiry.”
The highly critical report was published in Geneva yesterday afternoon. It concludes that the rights of disabled people to live independently, to work, and achieve an adequate standard of living have been detrimentally affected by austerity measures. The range of measures aimed at reducing public spending since 2010, including controversial changes such as the bedroom tax, and cuts to disability benefits and social care budgets have disproportionately and adversely affected disabled people.
The UN report of the findings of contraventions by the UK government to the rights of disabled people, which said much of what many of us have been writing and campaigning about for the past four years – since the controversial 2012 Welfare “Reform” Act and the targeted austerity programme – said nothing that many of us didn’t already know. But reading it personally was a surprisingly powerful emotional experience, despite the measured and emotionally-neutral language used throughout the report.
Whilst I am relieved most of our concerns, research, analysis and experiences were confirmed on one level, and that the government were exposed for their withholding of evidence, and of sometimes manufacturing it; of excluding disabled people from any consultation regarding the cuts to their support, I am nonetheless still shocked that we live in a country with a society that has permitted a government to treat sick and disabled people with such contempt, excluding us from full democratic citizenship and denying us basic human rights.
Members of the UN committee of 18 independent experts visited Britain in October 2015 and the report was based on more than 200 interviews and some 3,000 pages of documentary evidence.
The 22-page report condemned the radical and largely unmonitored welfare cuts and benefit caps, and social care cuts introduced as a major part of the Conservative’s austerity programme – the government claimed these cuts would make the welfare system “fairer and reduce benefit fraud.” The UN found no evidence of benefit fraud or fairness.
As anticipated, the UK government has rejected the UN report, saying in a formal response that its findings presented an “inaccurate picture” of life for disabled people in the UK: “While the government continues to improve and build on the support available to disabled people, it stands by and is proud of its record.”
The government went on to say: “As a strong parliamentary democracy, where the voices and opinions of disabled people are represented and listened to, the UK is a place where disabled people’s rights are respected, promoted and upheld.”
As a person who is disabled because of illness, and someone who has supported many other disabled people going through assessments, mandatory reviews and tribunals, I can say that our collective experiences indicate that we are NOT represented, nor have we been listened to. Our rights have clearly not been respected, promoted and upheld. The government have treated disabled people with contempt, we have not been included in the economy, we have experienced political and social prejudice and discrimination, we have not been extended equal opportunities, nor have we been permitted full citizenship and recognition of our human rights.
The government feel it’s acceptable to lie about the fact that they have failed to recognise our human rights, outrageously claiming that disabled people are “supported.” I have never heard of “support” that entails the systematic removal of people’s lifeline income, which was originally calculated to meet only basic needs.
The response is telling. The government did not produce evidence to substantiate their claims and denials, and there wasn’t a shred of concern for disabled people or remorse expressed about the distress and harm that the Conservative’s targeted austerity cuts have caused; there was just a refusal to be accountable and transparent, more denial and more gaslighting.
In their lengthy rebuttal, the Conservatives claimed that the UN inquiry was “too narrow in scope” and that the UK government did not plan to follow-up on the recommendations any further.
The inquiry findings
The conclusion of UN inquiry: “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 facts submitted by the source were disputed by the State party. The Committee engaged in a verification exercise in which the facts that appeared to be controversial were cross-checked with data collected from a variety of sources, including parliamentary inquiries, reports of the independent monitoring body of the Convention, official statistics, reports and data originating from other government departments or units, entity governments, research institutes, service providers, academic centres, independent experts, former government officers, grass-roots non-governmental organizations, organizations of persons with disabilities and individuals.
In some cases, some State party’s statements were not supported by evidence collected by the investigation. In others, the State party indicated that no data were available. The findings below are based on a comprehensive analysis of data provided by various sources.
The Committee observes that various pieces of legislation related to recent welfare policies do not fully enforce the international human rights framework related to social protection and independent living. In connection thereto, it was observed that in the field of social protection, persons with disabilities have not been properly considered as right-holders and entitled to benefits with regard to their right to social protection.
Similarly, while the Care Act 2014 reflects the principles of well-being of persons with disabilities and underlines the objective of personalization of support packages, it fails to properly acknowledge the elements of autonomy and control and choice, which are intrinsic to the right to independent living as referred to in article 19 of the Convention.”
That conclusion is based on the following findings of systematic violations of the convention:
(a) The State party has implemented a policy aimed at reforming its welfare system and the reforms have been justified in the context of austerity measures to achieve fiscal and budgetary policy consolidation;
(b) The assumptions made under the policy include that: taxpayers need to be treated with fairness; large numbers of persons with disabilities have been relying and dependent on social benefits; persons are better off in work than on benefits; the dependency of persons with disabilities on benefits is in itself a disincentive to move them into employment; the number of persons with disabilities relying on social benefits were to be decreased; and tightening sanctions and conditionality of social benefits is a legitimate tool for incentivizing their moving into employment;
(c) The impact assessments conducted by the State party prior to the implementation of several measures of its welfare reform expressly foresaw an adverse impact on persons with disabilities;
(d) Several measures have disproportionally and adversely affected the rights of persons with disabilities;
(e) Measures resulting in reduction of support provided to meet the extra cost of disability, denial of reasonable accommodation in assessment procedures and realization of the right to employment have had a discriminatory effect on persons with disabilities;
(f) The core elements of the rights to independent living and being included in the community, an adequate standard of living and social protection and their right to employment have been affected: persons with disabilities affected by policy changes have had their freedom of choice and control over their daily activities restricted, the extra cost of disability has been set aside and income protection has been curtailed as a result of benefit cuts, while the expected policy goal of achieving decent and stable employment is far from being attained;
(g) There is evidence that a large number of persons with disabilities have been affected (e.g. 13,900 persons with disabilities have lost their Motability schemes and therefore their adapted cars, upon implementation of Personal Independence Payment up to February 2016; 492,180 had been placed in the Employment and Support Allowance work-related activity group by end of 2015; 41,792 Employment and Support Allowance work-related activity group sanctions were handed out up to March 2014);
(h) Evidence gathered nationally by the Parliament, the independent monitoring framework, universities and research institutes and centres and independent experts, has documented adverse and disproportionate effects of measures on persons with disabilities;
(i) The State party has not conducted a comprehensive human rights-based cumulative impact assessment even though reliable sources have indicated it is feasible;
(j) The State party continues its policy of reducing social benefits of persons with disabilities as reflected in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016.
Comments from the report
“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.”
Further observation: “The availability of support [for disabled people] is established on the basis of what is considered to be an affordable service in the market, rather than on the specific needs of the person concerned.” Austerity measures were introduced and targeted disproportionately at disabled people at the same time that UK millionaires were awarded a tax cut of £107, 000 each per year. What is considered “an affordable service” is entirely founded on ideologically driven political decision making and has no basis on economic necessity.
Critical comment about Conservative propaganda and scapegoating: “The roll out of those policies included the issuing of statements by high-ranking officers that the reform was aimed at making the welfare system fairer to taxpayers and more balanced and transparent and reducing benefit fraud. 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”.
Although the State party produced evidence of formal efforts and public awareness campaigns to improve the image of persons with disabilities, the inquiry collected evidence that persons with disabilities continue to experience increasing hostility, aggressive behaviour and sometimes attacks to their personal integrity. The inquiry also found no substantiation of the alleged benefit fraud by persons with disabilities.”
Importantly: “Public sector equality duty obliges State authorities to carry out impact assessments when they plan to introduce measures, including legislative measures, to ensure that groups with protected characteristics, among them persons with disabilities, are properly consulted and any adverse impact on them is properly justified.
The State party submitted evidence that it has complied with domestic legal duties for all the intended changes to the welfare system. The inquiry collected evidence that a major piece of legislation of the welfare reform, the Welfare Reform Act 2012, was not thoroughly compliant with those requirements. Similarly, a court of law found that the decision to close the Independent Living Fund was not in compliance with domestic equality duty, which compelled the authorities of the State party to carry out another equality assessment.
The inquiry also collected evidence that the views of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations who had participated in consultations launched by the State party, were not meaningfully taken into account in the decision-making and had little or no influence on policy decisions. “
Particularly important in the current context and government work, health and disability green paper, the UN says that: “Given the barriers that still prevent the full participation of persons with disabilities in the labour market and mean higher unemployment rates for them, income-maintenance social security schemes are particularly important for persons with disabilities. Such schemes allow them to maintain their autonomy and freedom of control and choice of their living arrangements and day-to-day activities. Without an adequate level of social protection, persons with disabilities run the risk of being isolated, segregated from the community and/or institutionalized.
States parties should find an adequate balance between providing an adequate level of income security for persons with disabilities through social security schemes and supporting their labour inclusion. The two sets of measures should be seen as complementary rather than contradictory. Measures aimed at facilitating the inclusion in the labour market of beneficiaries of social security should include transitional arrangements to ensure income protection while they reach a certain threshold and sustainability in their wages. They should become eligible again without delay if they lose their jobs.”
One of the recommendations is that the state party: “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; 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.”
“[…] including that dependency on benefits is in itself a disincentive of employment.” This also has implications for the recent green paper, which discusses at length “incentives” for addressing disabled people in the ESA support group being “parked” on benefits and “mistakenly perceiving” that they are too ill to work. The findings of the inquiry expose most of the Conservative’s underpinning assumptions in the green paper, and in all their “interventions” aimed at disabled people, as utter tosh. (I will be including quotes from the UN report in my consultation responses to the work, health and disability green paper.)
Most of the cuts to social security have been justified by that particular myth, and so has the increased, harsh welfare conditionality, the extremely punitive sanctions and exploitative workfare schemes, the endless pseudopsychological state “therapy” aimed at “behaviour change”, attitude modification, nudging and coercion, condescending character assassinations, and of course it’s worth considering the lucrative contracts handed to profiteering private providers ironically costing us billions, whilst being contracted to take money from poor people to save the “tax payer” money.
Further comment:“Evidence indicates several flaws in the processes related to the Employment and Support Allowance. In particular, the Committee notes that, despite several adjustments made to the Work Capability Assessment, the assessment has continued to be focused on a functional evaluation of skills and capabilities, and puts aside personal circumstances and needs, and barriers faced by persons with disabilities to return to employment, particularly those of persons with intellectual and/or psychosocial disabilities. In the initial period covered by the present report, evidence indicates a significant percentage of assessments were overturned by tribunals.”
“The situation of persons with disabilities deemed “fit to work” is not monitored as such. Those who have re-entered the system by claiming the Job Seeker’s Allowance to support them until they find work face stringent levels of conditions and sanctions, which do not take into account the specific barriers they face. The Committee was informed that, in some cases, sanctions had led to financial hardship for persons with disabilities, and particularly persons with intellectual and/or psychosocial disabilities.
The State party initially stated that it did not monitor deaths that occurred after assessments. Evidence gathered during the inquiry indicated that, in 2012 and 2015, such information was released by the Department of Work and Pension following freedom of information requests. Additionally, information originated from official sources indicated that 33 deaths of claimants who died after being assessed were being examined. The State party claims that there is no causal link. The Committee is not aware of any attempts at objective, thorough, open and impartial investigation regarding those deaths by an independent body.”
The Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) 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. The State party should ensure that such assessment is rights-based and meaningfully involves persons with disabilities and their representative organizations;
(b) Ensure that any intended measure of the welfare reform is rights-based, upholds the human rights model of disability and does not disproportionately and/or adversely affect the rights of persons with disabilities to independent living, an adequate standard of living and employment. To prevent adverse consequences, the States party should carry out human rights-based cumulative impact assessments of the whole range of intended measures that would have an impact on the rights of persons with disabilities;
(c) Ensure that: any intended legislation and/or policy measure respects the core elements of the rights analysed in the present report; persons with disabilities retain their autonomy, choice and control over their place of residence and with whom they live; they receive appropriate and individualized support, including through personal assistance, and have access to community-based services on an equal basis with others; they have access to security social schemes that ensure income protection, including in relation to the extra cost of disability, that is compatible with an adequate standard of living and ensure their full inclusion and participation in society; and they have access and are supported in gaining employment in the open labour market on an equal basis with others;
(d) 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;
(e) Introduce all adjustments necessary to make all information, communications, administrative and legal procedures in relation to social security entitlements, independent living schemes and employment/unemployment-related support services fully accessible to all persons with disabilities;
(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;
(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;
(h) 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; 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;
(i) Ensure that, in the implementation of legislation, policies and programmes, special attention is paid to persons with disabilities living with a low income or in poverty and persons with disabilities at higher risk of exclusion, such as persons with intellectual, psychosocial or multiple disabilities and women, children and older persons with disabilities. Those measures should be put in place within contributive and non-contributive regimes;
(j) Set up a mechanism and a system of human rights-based indicators to permanently monitor the impact of the different policies and programmes relating to the access and enjoyment by persons with disabilities of the right to social protection and an adequate standard of living, the right to live independently and be included in the community and the right to work, in close consultation with persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in all regions and countries that constitute the State party;
(k) Respond to the present report within the time limit prescribed under the Optional Protocol, widely disseminate the Committee’s findings and recommendations and provide appropriate follow-up to the recommendations of the present report, including during the consideration of the State party’s initial report before the Committee.
2. Observations of the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on the report of the Inquiry carried out by the Committee under article 6 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention
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