DISABLED people are dying as a result of austerity measures and discrimination, campaigners have claimed, after the UK Government was sharply criticised by a United Nations watchdog committee.
Equal Lives chief executive Mark Harrison said: “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.”
“We welcome this condemnation of UK Government policy towards disabled people by the UN.”
The UN Committee on the Rights of Disabled People yesterday said Britain was “going backwards” in terms of meeting its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, particularly by failing to enable those with disabilities to have the same choice and control in their lives as people without.
Its 17 page report on the UK contained more recommendations for improvement than for any other country in the committee’s 10 year history.
Key among its concerns was the disproportionate impact of austerity-led cuts on disabled people, with the report claiming disabled people had been left in poverty by cuts to benefits and support, the closure of the Independent Living Fund, the introduction of Universal Credit and the change from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments.
Last week committee chairwoman Theresia Degener described the impact of cuts on disabled people in the UK as a “human catastrophe”, a view she repeated at yesterday’s press conference.
The report also warns of inadequate funding for independent living, resulting in too much institutionalisation. It says disabled people continue to be disadvantaged in employment, and are not adequately compensated for disability by the state.
An excessive use of segregation in education was criticised, with the committee arguing special schools
breach the rights of disabled pupils, but also warning that mainstream inclusive education is inadequately funded. The report says forced detention of people with mental health problems breaches their human rights.
However the Scottish Government is praised for consulting disabled people over its plans for introducing a new social security system, under devolved powers.
UK rapporteur to the committee Mr Stig Langvad, said the review had been “the most challenging exercise in the history of the Committee”, and criticised the government for failing to heed a 2016 inquiry which had found “grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights”.
Organisations representing disabled people welcomed the findings and said the UK should comply with recommendations – ministers are required to report back on progress to the committee within 12 months.
In a statement the UK Delegation of Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations welcomed the UN committee’s findings and said they had “crushed” the UK’s claim to be a world leader in disability issues. “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,” it said.
John McArdle and Dr Stephen Carty of the Scottish-based Black Triangle Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights said the UK Government should heed the committee’s call to end its controversial work capability assessment (WCA) : Mr McArdle said. “Today’s comment from the Chair of the CRPD 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.”
Sally Witcher, chief executive of Inclusion Scotland welcomed recommendations for better funding for social support: “This is a key area which Disabled people in Scotland are clear needs to improve, given the currently failings of our social care system.
“Inclusion Scotland agrees with the Committee that Scottish Government is to be commended for its approach to designing a social security system with Disabled people. However, the results of this approach remain to be seen,” she added.
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 £50 billion a year to support disabled people and those with health conditions – more than ever before, and the second highest in the G7.
“We’re also a recognised world leader in disability rights and equality, which is why we supported the development of the UN convention.”