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Sunak’s Government Accused of ‘Hiding’ from Damning United Nations Inquiry on Treatment of Disabled People

From the Bedroom Tax to Work Capability Assessments, the Government is accused of systematically failing disabled people

A protester challenges the UK Government’s welfare reforms under the coalition government. Photo: John Stillwell / PA Images

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Disability organisations have accused Rishi Sunak’s Government of “showing contempt” for disabled people, after failing to give evidence to a key United Nations inquiry.

The inquiry evidence session, taking place in Geneva on 28 August, is part of a follow up to the special investigation carried out by the UN’s committee responsible for the Convention on the Rights of Disabled People in 2016.

The report from the UN disability investigation, published that year, confirmed that the UK had committed “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights, due to welfare cuts and wider austerity. The Conservative Government said at the time that it “strongly disagreed” with the findings. 

But the Government is understood to have pulled out from providing evidence to a rare follow-up hearing next week – scuppering the meeting at the last minute, disability campaigners say. The meeting was due to examine progress – or lack thereof – in implementing the recommendations from the damning report.

“Flights were booked, huge effort went in – and now we will have to repeat [it] again in six months. It’s really rude to the committee but also dismissive of the huge effort disabled people have put in – and ignoring the strain all of this puts on us,” a spokesperson for Disabled People Against Cuts told Byline Times.

Issues that 2016 investigation looked at included, among others, the closure of the Independent Living Fund, which supported disabled people with high needs to live in the community, the introduction of the Bedroom Tax which hit thousands of disabled tenants, and the role of benefit sanctions in the deaths and suicides of disabled claimants. 

It also probed the introduction of controversial Work Capability Assessments, which see private contractors mark potential claimants on how disabled they are. WCAs are to be scrapped following the March 2023 Spring Budget. 

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The UN committee also argued that, despite public awareness campaigns, people with disabilities “continue to experience increasing hostility, aggressive behaviour and sometimes attacks on their behaviour” in society. 

But the Government appears to have snubbed the UN committee’s upcoming review of how the UK is implementing its 2016 recommendations. 

Cuts and Contempt

Martha Foulds from the campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts described the UK Governments failure to provide an update to the UN committee on progress as “the latest demonstration of their contempt for Deaf and disabled people.”

She added: “The government should put its effort into implementing the committee’s recommendations rather than its current commitment to cuts, enflaming hostility against benefit claimants and culture wars.”

This month’s session will still hear from Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations (DDPOs) from across the UK and from the respective equality and human rights commissions. Campaign groups and charities are clear that the situation since 2016 has deteriorated further for deaf and disabled people.

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Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “The evidence is stark  – there continues to be significant retrogression of disabled people’s rights since the 2016 special inquiry.

“Having gathered hundreds of pages of evidence over the last 18 months, DDPOs, including Inclusion London, are united in the view that the UK government has not implemented the UN committee’s recommendations to protect our rights. Far from it – they have made the situation even worse for disabled people than it was in 2016.”

She added: “We will be sharing our evidence and our experiences with the UN disability committee. If our under-funded and over-stretched organisation can gather, collate and provide evidence then why can’t the UK government?”

Watchdog Weighs In

An official UK Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report published last week found that disabled people are living in deeper poverty than in 2016, when the original UN report was published, and are increasingly having to rely on foodbanks. 

The UK equality watchdog’s report said a disproportionate number of disabled people live on a low income or in poverty, and face long waits for decisions on their benefit entitlements. 

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“Across the UK, there is a lack of comprehensive, disaggregated equality data to facilitate the monitoring of the impact of policy and programmes on disabled persons to ensure that targeted actions can be taken,” the report found.

EHRC chairwoman Kishwer Falkner urged the Government to act on the UN’s recommendations from seven years ago. 

Many deaf and disabled people in the devolved nations are also dismayed that the Westminster government is seen as “avoiding scrutiny” over issues which affect Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, including social security payments.

Rhian Davies, Chief Executive of Disability Wales, said: “The UK Government’s non-attendance at the review session reveals very clearly that the Westminster Government has little that is positive to report and as evidenced in Disability Wales own shadow report, has in fact regressed further on disability equality. 

“The austerity regime introduced and cruelly sustained by successive UK Governments has had a devastating impact on disabled people in Wales, increasing poverty, worsening mental health and fuelling hate crime.”

A Government Equality Hub Spokesperson said: “The Government is fully committed to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the advancement of rights for disabled people in this country.

“We have followed all of the Committee’s required procedures and we will present the UK’s progress at a hearing in March 2024.”

Last month ministers launched a consultation on our new Disability Action Plan, which the government says is part of its commitment to “create a society that works for everyone”. 

Government figures argue they’ve boosted disability benefits by 10.1% this year, and invested £2 billion to support sick and disabled people back into work. However, the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that even with the 10% rise, this would still leave benefits’ real value on course to be 6% below their pre-pandemic levels – equivalent to almost £500 per year for the average out-of-work claimant. Benefits – excluding pensions – have failed to keep up with inflation for many years since 2010.

UK Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations will launch a “shadow” report they submitted to the special inquiry on Monday 28 August, to coincide with the UN evidence session.

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