By John Pring Disability News Service 9th February 2017
Three national disabled people’s organisations have withdrawn a report they submitted to the United Nations, after admitting that it failed to speak out strongly enough on links between the government’s welfare reforms and the deaths of benefit claimants.
The report will now be toughened up and resubmitted to the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD).
The three organisations – Disability Rights UK, Disability Wales and Inclusion Scotland – were forced to act after flaws in their report were highlighted by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Disability News Service (DNS).
The “shadow report” was sent to CRPD as part of the process which will lead to the UK government being questioned in public later this year on its progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
Although it is only one of several shadow reports being submitted to CRPD, it is likely to have a significant impact on the committee because it was funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
Last week, DR UK defended the report and said that it had chosen not to say more about evidence linking welfare reform and the deaths of disabled people “in order to have space to raise other critical issues”.
At one point in the report, it promised to “address this issue in more detail” later in the document, but then failed to do so, which it later said was “a mistake that we overlooked during final editing”.
The three organisations now say that this editing mistake was the reason the report did not include some of the evidence that disabled activists say was missing*, and that they “very much regret” this error.
Some of the missing evidence will now be added to the report, which will be resubmitted to CRPD.
The extra evidence to be added will include two letters sent by coroners to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that link flaws in the work capability assessment (WCA) process with the deaths of benefit claimants with mental health conditions.
Both letters called on DWP to take action to make the test safer, but those pleas appear to have been ignored by ministers.
The three organisations will also point out in the new version of their shadow report that there are DNS articles that discuss links between the actions of DWP ministers and benefit-related deaths.
They say they were always intending to include extra information, even though consultant Neil Crowther, who played a significant role in writing the report, repeatedly defended its contents over the weekend on social media, and accused DNS of being “divisive and polarising” for highlighting the missing evidence.
In a message sent to DNS via Twitter, he said: “I’ve read all the stuff you sent [five pieces of missing evidence*, including the two coroners’ reports], looked at case law, re-read our report and still don’t think we got it wrong.”
But in a series of statements this week, the three organisations now say that it had been their “full intention to include more evidence” on benefit-related deaths.
They say they will add a “suggested question” for CRPD to ask the UK government, which will be similar to: “What is the State Party’s approach to suicide prevention in the context of disability benefits assessments?”
The Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) said the DR UK report had provided a “very flawed and distorted picture of what is going on in the UK”, and welcomed the decision to withdraw, strengthen and resubmit the the document.
Mark Harrison, chief executive of ROFA member Equal Lives, but speaking on behalf of ROFA, said he and his colleagues were concentrating on producing their own shadow report, on behalf of their alliance of disabled people’s organisations across England.
He said it was DPAC, a ROFA member, which had triggered a CRPD inquiry that led to a damning report last November which found the UK government guilty of “grave or systematic violations” of disabled people’s human rights as a result of its social security reforms.
Harrison said the shadow report had said little about the link between the UK government’s welfare reforms and the deaths of disabled benefit claimants, which was one of the key issues raised in last year’s UN report, which had been fuelled by years of DPAC research and campaigning.
Harrison said: “ROFA supported DPAC in doing that and gave evidence alongside DPAC to the UN inquiry team, and we are going to build on that in our report to make sure it is an accurate reflection of the situation disabled people face in the UK.”
John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “We welcome DR UK’s commitment to withdraw this report, pending the inclusion of the relevant evidence.
“The facts established by the two coroners’ reports provide incontrovertible proof as to the reality of how the WCA regime leads directly to the entirely avoidable deaths of disabled people subjected to it.
“This is because there is no proper risk assessment or safety protocol built into the system.”
He said questions had been asked in the House of Commons about 49 secret DWP “peer reviews” into benefit-related deaths, whose existence was revealed by DNS following freedom of information requests.
He said: “It was an extraordinary ‘oversight’ on the part of the report’s authors to have omitted this evidence.
“It is utterly central to our common struggle in the UK for the fundamental human rights of sick and/or disabled people to be respected. There is no more precious a human right than that to life itself.
“Until the coroners’ recommendations are fully respected and put into place, people will continue to pay the ultimate price.
“Any and all attempts to obscure this truth is, in our view, to be complicit in these acts of barbarism.”
In a statement, DR UK, Disability Wales and Inclusion Scotland said: “It is important to note that there is a great deal more, often important, evidence that we would have wanted to provide with regard to just about every issue covered in the report.
“The limit on word count was a huge frustration throughout.
“However, the main aim at this stage of the process is to get across the key issues that disabled people identified, in order to influence the list of issues that the committee explores in their examination.
“There will be opportunities later in the process to present more evidence and for more in-depth exploration.”
*Among the missing evidence were the two coroners’ reports; a DWP freedom of information response which showed how ministers deliberately loosened regulations that had been drawn up to protect people with mental health conditions whose lives could be at risk if forced into work-related activity; documents that suggested that ministers failed to show one of the coroner’s reports and their own secret reviews into deaths linked to the WCA to the independent expert they hired to review the assessment; and government-funded research by public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford, which concluded in late 2015 that the programme to reassess people on incapacity benefit through the WCA was linked to 590 suicides in just three years.