“Conference, delegates, friends. I know I speak for the whole Disabled Members Group, and for disabled people up and down the country, when I say we are deeply grateful for the overwhelming support shown by so many branches, members and elected representatives for this resolution.
When the UK signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities in 2009, Labour were in government, and although disabled people were already dying from Blair’s reforms, the full weight of these seemingly disparate deaths wasn’t yet understood.
A year later, when the Coalition took office, we know that they had already received a Coroner’s Report on the Prevention of Future Deaths, which would save lives if implemented. Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling decided to ignore it, and the Tory/LibDem Coalition dedicated their time in government to implementing sweeping, devastating cuts to social security, health and social care – a programme which continues to cut further and deeper with every passing year.
In 2012, Disabled People Against Cuts began the formal process of triggering a UN investigation into violations of the CRPD. This was based not just on the lives lost, but on the multitude of ways the Austerity cuts have made life harder for disabled people. We have been pushing for a cumulative impact study for years, because disabled people are rarely affected by just one cut.
It takes a long time to initiate an investigation, as multiple sources of evidence have to be submitted, verified and researched. In 2014, the UK became the first government to ever be investigated by the CRPD, a shameful mark on our history. No UN investigation is undertaken frivolously – there has to be significant, verified evidence for the process to even begin.
In the years since, hundreds of people have testified, and thousands of pages of documentary evidence have been gathered and submitted. In November, the first judgement was passed: that the UK Government had committed ‘grave and systematic violations of the human rights of disabled people’.
Westminster’s response at the time was a shrug of the shoulders. In late August, the UNCRPD met again for a periodic assessment of the UK’s adherence, or lack of, to the Convention. Two members of our Disabled Members Group, John McCardle of Black Triangle and Bill Scott of Inclusion Scotland, were in Geneva to testify. The UNCRPD’s judgement on the 31st of August was stark: The UK government has created a ‘human catastrophe’ in the disabled population. They noted that Westminster has systematically misled the public about the impact of government policies, refusing to answer questions and misusing statistics to create a false impression. They particularly criticised the use of dangerous rhetoric which demonises disabled people.
Again, this has been met with a shrug. Westminster responded that they don’t accept these findings, and a few soundbites about ‘the most needy’ and ‘£50billion’. The first is a weasel phrase about slightly increasing support to a tiny fraction of people with severe disabilities while stripping it from everyone else, and the second ignores the vast economic, human and ethical cost of isolating, warehousing and killing disabled people. In 2015, in England and Wales alone, research linked 30,000 excess deaths to cuts in health and social care. That’s more than 3 deaths every single hour for a whole year. Hundreds of suicides have been linked to sanctions and disability assessments, and the death toll keeps rising.
The Scottish Government has attempted to mitigate the worst effects and ensure that disabled people have the rights and freedoms accorded by the Convention. They should not have to spend hundreds of millions of pounds to protect people from Westminster and people in the other nations of the UK should not be left behind. Westminster must, as a matter of urgency, undertake a full cumulative impact assessment, halt all impending changes until that is carried out, and immediately engage with the recommendations of the UNCRPD. Failure to do so confirms that international law is not something the UK much cares about and they have no interest in meeting their obligations. That should be noted by all countries negotiating with us over the next few years.
Scotland’s Parliament is founded on the principles of human rights for all. We work hard to be better today than we were yesterday, to fight for the people who live here whoever they might be and whatever circumstances they find themselves in. As my colleague Paula Peters said at the Labour Conference – disabled people are not voiceless. We have voices, we just need you to listen. Disabled people began this process, saw it through, and will hold the government to account on its successes and failures.
We demand justice for the dead, and rights for the living. Please support this resolution.