A ‘human catastrophe’ – New UN condemnation for UK human rights record

The UK Government’s claim to be a ‘world leader in disability issues’ has today been crushed by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Committee has released damning Concluding Observations on the UK, following its first Review of the government’s compliance with the Convention.

DDPO delegation at the UN Headquarters in Geneva

ROFA members at the UN Headquarters in Geneva. Photo: Natasha Hirst

The UK Government’s claim to be a ‘world leader in disability issues’ has today been crushed by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Committee has released damning Concluding Observations on the UK, following its first Review of the government’s compliance with the Convention.

The highlights of the press conference held by the UN Committee on the Rights of Disabled People at this afternoon are:

  • The Committee has made the highest ever number of recommendations to the UK.
  • The UK’s retrogression in ensuring Independent Living is a major concern. There is not adequate funding, resulting in too much institutionalisation.
  • There is a significant problem with Deaf and disabled people’s standard of living. Disabled people continue to be disadvantaged in employment, and are not adequately compensated for disability by the state.

The Observations conclude last week’s public examination of the UK Government’s record on delivering disabled people’s rights. The examination was declared by the UK rapporteur Mr Stig Langvad, to be “the most challenging exercise in the history of the Committee”. Mr Langvad raised deep concerns on the UK Government’s failure to implement the rights of disabled people. He also noted the government’s “lack of recognition of the findings and recommendations of the (2016) Inquiry” which found ‘grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights’.

Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations (DDPOs) were hailed as the genuine “world leaders” for their efforts in bringing to light the injustices and human rights violations inflicted on disabled people in the UK.

The UK Delegation of Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations has issued the following joint statement:

“Today the UN(CRPD) Committee has, once again, condemned the UK Government’s record on Deaf and Disabled People’s human rights. They have validated the desperation, frustration and outrage experienced by Deaf and Disabled people since austerity and welfare cuts began. It is not acceptable for the UK Government to ignore the strong and united message of the disability community.

UK Government representatives committed during the review to rethinking the way they support Deaf and Disabled People to monitor our rights. We welcome this commitment.  However, we are clear that our involvement must be genuine and inclusive and that we cannot accept anything less than progress on delivering the human rights enshrined in the Convention, and denied us for too long.

DDPOs have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with following a long campaign of challenging the Government’s blatant disregard for the lives of Deaf and disabled people in the UK. The unity and solidarity demonstrated by the Committee and the UK Independent Mechanism in supporting our calls for justice continue to strengthen us.”

Quotes from DDPOs:

Rhian Davies, Chief Executive of Disability Wales said, “It is a relief to see that the UK Government’s appalling treatment of disabled people has been called out by the UN Committee. The Concluding Observations give a clear sense of direction for the UK and devolved Governments. We welcome Welsh Government’s commitment to a strengthened Framework for Action on Independent Living since much of the implementation of the UNCRPD is devolved to Welsh Government.

However, as a devolved nation, it is not possible to entirely mitigate the impact of UK austerity policies and we will continue to join forces with our sister organisations across the UK in our quest to safeguard disabled people’s human rights in Wales.”

Tara Flood, Director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) said, “We are delighted that the Committee has highlighted the Government’s shocking disregard for the human rights of Disabled children and young people to be included in mainstream education and we welcome the Committee’s call for a strategy to end the segregation and institutionalisation of children and young people from their families and communities. As the Chair of the Committee, Theresia Degener, stated last week ‘inclusive education is not a choice, it is a human right’. Our work to turn that right into a reality begins today with renewed energy and the force of the world alongside us!”

Dr Terry Riley OBE, Chairman of the British Deaf Association said, “We were impressed with the openness of the committee to listen to our evidence and apply their significant legal experience. Therefore we are glad to see that the committee has expressly recommended that the UK government finally legislate to protect language rights of deaf people.

So many of the committee’s remarks related to this, from failings in healthcare and education for deaf people, to the exclusion of deaf jurors. Deaf people have been passed over too long; there can now be no doubt that the government has been taken to task.

Without language rights, we have no human rights.”

Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “We were proud to give evidence to the committee alongside other deaf and disabled people’s organisations. The UK government should now cut the rhetoric and start delivering on these excellent recommendations.

“Along with a host of other issues, the committee rightly voiced concern at the use of compulsory mental health detention and treatment. The seemingly endless rise in the numbers of people with mental health problems being detained or forcibly treated in the community is a daily reminder that human rights violations do take place in the UK. We back the committee’s call for changes to the law in this area.”

Tracey Lazard, CEO of Inclusion London, said: “This is a damning verdict by UN disability rights experts on the failure of the UK Government  to protect or uphold Disabled people’s rights. The UN conclusions reflect Deaf and Disabled people’s our own lived experience, in stark contrast to the UK Government position which continues to be one of denial, spin, misinformation and frankly disdain for Disabled people and our organisations and the mountain of evidence that shows things are going terribly wrong, as well as disdain for the UN process itself. We very much hope that these damning concluding observations and recommendations will be the wake-up call the Government needs to begin pro-actively working with us to get the protection and implementation of our rights back on track and begin to restore justice and fairness to UK Government policy.”

Ellen Clifford, National Steering Group of Disabled People Against Cuts said: “The Concluding Observations reflect how seriously the UN disability committee are taking the situation in the UK, with the highest number of recommendations ever given by them. In the press conference today members again stated that the UK is going backwards in critical rights such as the right to live in the community with adequate support and the human cost of government austerity measures. They have also been clear in their expectation that the government needs to take on board the findings of their inquiry which found evidence of grave and systematic violations of Disabled people’s rights due to welfare reform. It is utterly shameful that this should be happening in one of the richest nations in the world. We all now need to take a stance that enough is enough and demand that the Government acknowledge reality.”

John McArdle and Dr Stephen Carty of the Scottish based Black Triangle Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights said:

‘Black Triangle Campaign has campaigned unrelentingly for the work capability assessment regime to be scrapped and was instrumental through our medical adviser Dr Stephen Carty of Edinburgh in making British Medical Association national policy in 2012 that, in the words of the motion which was passed and remains BMA national policy:

‘The WCA should be scrapped with immediate effect to be replaced with a rigorous and safe assessment regime that does not cause avoidable harm’ to sick and/or disabled people.

‘Today’s comment from the Chair of the CRPD as reported by Reuters News Agency that the fit for work assessment regime has created a “human catastrophe” for sick and/or disabled people confirms this.

‘The British government must now halt the assessment regime immediately and replace it working together with DDPOs and the BMA.

‘Not to do so will ensure that this catastrophic harm continues unabated.’

Equal Lives CEO, Mark Harrison said:

“We welcome this condemnation of UK Government policy towards disabled people by the UN. When the Chair of the disability committee described the situation that disabled people face as a ‘human catastrophe’ she was reflecting what Norfolk’s disability community has been experiencing over the last 7 years.  In a very short space of time we have gone from having some of the best rights in the world to a crisis situation where people are dying because of the barriers and discrimination caused by austerity.  Equal Lives is here to support disabled people of all ages to live as equal and active citizens.  We will continue to speak out and campaign for equality and justice until the Government recognises its responsibilities and changes course”.

Notes to editors:

  •  The OHCHR Press Conference (Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) announcing the Concluding Observations takes place from 13:00 GMT:
  • The Concluding Observations will be published on the Committee’s webpage at 6pm GMT:
  • DDPOs across the UK have worked in coproduction to collect evidence and compile the reports through the Review process. The delegation of DDPOs present in Geneva w/c 21st August 2017 included Disability Rights UK, Inclusion Scotland, Disability Wales, Disability Action Northern Ireland, the Reclaiming our Futures Alliance, British Deaf Association, People First Scotland, Alliance for Inclusive Education, Disabled People Against Cuts, Inclusion London, Equal Lives, Black Triangle, Sisters of Frida, Black Mental Health UK.
  • Contributions were also received from Innovations in Dementia, HFT and Intersex NGO Coalition.
  • On 23rd and 24th August the examination of the UK Government took place in Geneva, with the UN Committee on the Rights of Disabled People. The report of the dialogue can be found here, with links to submission documents:http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21993&LangID=E
  • The committee postponed its assessment of the UK (originally due in 2015) to investigate a complaint of the violation of disabled people’s rights as a result of welfare reform. This was brought under the optional protocol of the Convention. The findings expressed concern of grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights. That investigation looked only at a part of the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People – with a particular focus on the impact of austerity measures and welfare reform. The Review looked at a much wider set of issues, including our laws on mental health and mental capacity, policies on employment and education and more.
    Inquiry report, 2016: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRPD/Pages/InquiryProcedure.aspx
  • A lay person’s guide to the Review process and Examination can be found here: www.disabilitywales.org/crpd17

For media enquiries, please contact:

Tracey Lazard tracey.lazard@inclusionlondon.org.uk or Natasha Hirst on 029 2088 7325 / 07825 211775 or Natasha.hirst@disabilitywales.org

For comment on intersex genital mutilation, please contact StopIGM.org, Daniela Truffer and Markus Bauer, atnella@zwischengeschlecht.info or +41 76 398 06 50

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