UN committee calls UK's record on disabled rights a 'human catastrophe'

Written by Nicholas Mairs and Jenni Davidson on 1 September 2017 in News

The inquiry by the United Nations found disabled people are suffering under austerity

Disability - Image credit: Dods Library

The UK Government's treatment of disabled people through austerity a "human catastrophe", a UN panel has said.

An inquiry by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities found the UK has failed to meet its obligations.

The convention, which Britain has been signed up to since 2007, enshrines the rights of disabled people to live independently, to work and to enjoy social protection without discrimination.

While the efforts of the Scottish Government to design a new social security system were praised inn the report, the UN committee’s chair, Theresia Degener, branded the situation in Britain a “human catastrophe”.

“The austerity measures that [the UK Government has] taken – they are affecting half a million people, each disabled person is losing between £2,000 and £3,000 per year, people are pushed into work situations without being recognised as vulnerable, and the evidence that we had in front of us was just overwhelming,” she said.

Meanwhile committee member Stig Langvad said the UK is “going backwards” on disability issues.

The inquiry raised concerns across a range of areas from education, work and housing to health, transport and social security with more than 60 recommendations for UK ministers.

They include calls for legislation to ensure mainstream schools provide “real inclusion” for disabled children; a review of benefit sanctions which have been linked to rising poverty; and an increase in resources to allow disabled people to live independently.

Among the recommendations are that the UK Government’s Personal Independent Payment regulations should be repealed and there should be a review of the Employment and Support Allowance conditionality and sanction regimes.

It also called for the UK Government to do more to engage with disabled people and organisations representing them when planning policies and legislation which will have an impact on them.

A UK Government spokesperson said: “We’re disappointed that this report does not accurately reflect the evidence we gave to the UN, and fails to recognise all the progress we’ve made to empower disabled people in all aspects of their lives.

“We spend over £50bn a year to support disabled people and those with health conditions – more than ever before, and the second highest in the G7.

“We’re committed to furthering rights and opportunities for all disabled people, which is why it is encouraging that almost 600,000 disabled people have moved into work in the UK over the last four years."

Scottish Government Minister for Social Security Jeane Freeman said:  “Our approach is in stark contrast to the UK Government’s welfare cuts, introduction of personal independence payments and the benefit sanctions regime which they highlight has taken away vital support for disabled people and their families, all of which have been roundly condemned by the UN.

“The approach the UK Government is taking is hindering not helping people - they must now surely listen and act to prevent further damage being done.

“While we are not complacent and know much more work has to be done, having this positive endorsement for the Scottish approach is confirmation, were it needed, that we are on the right track.”



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