By John Pring, The Disability News Service
Disabled activists have welcomed the UN’s apparent decision to launch an inquiry into allegations of “grave or systematic” violations of its disability convention by the UK government.
Disability News Service (DNS) revealed last week that the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) appears to have made the UK the subject of its first inquiry into alleged violations of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
CRPD has refused to confirm or deny that the UK is being investigated, because the process is carried out confidentially, but a recording has emerged [watch from one hour and four minutes] of a former member of the committee revealing that the inquiry has been launched.
The DNS story spread rapidly across social media, and was mentioned by a string of disability blogs after it was published on 15 August, although the news has yet to be picked up by the mainstream press.
Julie Newman, acting chair of the UK Disabled People’s Council, said she hoped the inquiry would provide “some form of legitimate challenge” to government attacks on disabled people’s rights.
She said: “I hope it’s happening and I hope there is a way of putting some teeth into it.”
Newman said she hoped the inquiry would eventually force the government to “backtrack”, and added: “One of the things that has disturbed me greatly is there doesn’t seem to be any accountability.
“For a government to be so implacable in insisting on its course of action without any resort to due care and attention is appalling.
“The breaches are now so blatant, the fact that people are dying and the coroner’s courts are recognising suicides or lack of care as direct results of benefit reform… there is a limit to how much can be said without anybody listening, and if it has to be from outside the country, so be it.”
Kate Green, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “After leading the way internationally on disability rights for decades, it is very disappointing that under the current government the UK appears to be the first country to be investigated for a breach.
“The coalition has let down disabled people – demonstrated in shameful policies like the bedroom tax and the rising numbers of disabled people facing absolute poverty.”
Philip Connolly, policy and communications manager for Disability Rights UK, said the possibility of an inquiry was “welcome news”.
He said: “At our recent independent living conference we reviewed the progress of UK governments since 2009 and documented the erosion of disabled people’s rights.
“It may now be the case that international lawyers are coming to similar viewpoints.
“We would now expect parliament to obtain confirmation from the government whether this is indeed the case when it reconvenes in around 10 days’ time.”
And Jane Young, a disabled consultant and campaigner and lead author of last month’s report by the Just Fair consortium, Dignity and Opportunity for All – which suggested that the UK had gone from being an international leader in disability rights to risking becoming a “systematic violator of these same rights” – also welcomed the apparent decision to carry out the inquiry.
She said: “All disabled people and people with a long term health condition should welcome scrutiny by the UN disability committee of the UK’s compliance with its obligations under the UNCRPD to respect and realise disabled people’s human rights.”
But she added: “The committee needs space, away from the gaze of publicity, to make its findings on the evidence.
“It’s important that we don’t try to speculate on the topic of the inquiry or pre-judge the outcome, however tempting that may be.”
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) made no attempt this week to deny that CRPD had launched an inquiry into potential violations of the convention by the UK.
A DWP spokesman said: “All United Nations inquiry processes are confidential. That confidentiality should be respected.
“The UK is working hard on protecting the human rights of all its citizens in accordance with human rights law, including under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
“The UK is cooperating fully with the UN and supports its treaty monitoring mechanisms.”
Meanwhile, DWP has again refused to offer any explanation for why the number of disabled people having out-of-work benefits temporarily removed for breaching strict conditions soared in the first three months of this year.
The figures show that 2,882 decisions were made to sanction claimants of employment and support allowance in December 2013, rising to 3,750 in January 2014, them 4,698 in February and 7,507 in March, an increase of nearly 580 per cent since March 2013.
But DWP has refused to explain why it believes the numbers have shot up.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “As you can see from the numbers, there’s been an increase in the number of those on ESA WRAG [work-related activity group] who aren’t taking up all of the support that is offered to them – but it’s clear that the overwhelming majority of claimants – ie around 99 per cent – are doing the right thing and taking up the support.”
But when asked again why the numbers had risen so drastically, she said: “I’m satisfied we’ve answered your questions.”
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