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Disabled people tell UN committee that UK is failing on international rights convention

03 February 2017

Successive British governments and other public bodies are failing to fulfil pledges they signed up to under a major international disability rights convention, campaigners have told a United Nations (UN) committee.

  • Implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in England and Wales - pdf and word versions

  • Implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. - Great Britain - pdf and word version - See also UN website

The committee is reviewing the United Kingdom’s (UK) progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – which the UK signed in 2009.   

A range of disability rights groups have submitted a “shadow report” to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities after extensive consultation with disabled people.

It argues that there is “little evidence that the UK government is consistently taking account” of the convention in developing policy and making decisions – and that ministers explicitly rejected it in developing key legislation such as the Care Act 2014.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said:

“When the UK ratified the convention in 2009 millions of disabled people hoped for a new era of equality, fair treatment and the opportunity to take full part in society, like all other citizens. Sadly, successive Governments have often failed to take account of disabled people’s rights when making policy; and have introduced some policies that actually make things much worse.

Examples are the 2008 expansion of compulsory mental health treatment to the community – which research shows has had no beneficial effects but has infringed human rights; and, more recently, cuts to social care, which have made it harder for many disabled people to live independently and take part in their communities.

 “Governments have introduced stand-alone measures that are helpful – for instance, recently making apprenticeships more flexible so more disabled people can get started on their careers; or introducing peer support to give more tailored employment help – but overall we are not seeing the ‘progressive realisation of rights’ that the Convention expects.

Liz Sayce added:

“Every day we hear about practices that fly in the face of the convention’s principles and that affect the chances of disabled people enjoying their basic human rights and being part of our society as equal citizens.”

With many health, social care and public transport services now devolved to local, regional or national organisations, the Government should do more to ensure public bodies and providers adhere to the convention, the report argues.

It says that access problems in buildings, on the street and public transport frustrate many disabled people and prevent them playing a full part in the community and earning a living.

Other concerns highlighted in the report include:

  • More children in ‘special schools’ rather than mainstream education – aggravated by the failure to provide clear guidance on education and the public sector equality duty

  • Rapidly growing use of compulsory detention and forced treatment powers contained in mental health legislation that are incompatible with the UN convention

  • A massive shortfall in housing that meets the needs of disabled people; and, for many, no security of tenure

  • The loss of investment in health and social care services which support disabled people to live independently

  • Inadequate or no investigations into unexpected deaths of disabled people in the care of the state – particularly those with learning disabilities or mental health problems

  • Delays in implementing requirements for reasonable adjustments that allow disabled people to work and use services

  • Concerns about the level of hate speech and hate crime

  • A tendency by public bodies to focus on processes rather than meaningful outcomes when fulfilling their legal duty to eliminate discrimination and promote equality.

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of DRUK, who led on the report added:

“We have drawn on the experiences of disabled people across the UK to present a full picture of our daily lives and the impediments that prevent so many fulfilling their potential and living full, independent lives. Whether you look at the shockingly low average life expectancy of people with learning disabilities or the sheer poverty of disabled people, it is clear that progress towards real equality continues to be patchy and torturous.

“We urge the UK Government and the devolved administrations to work constructively with this welcome inquiry by a team of international experts. More importantly, they must then work with disabled people and act on the UN team’s conclusions and recommendations.”

The report – which combines two separate documents focussing on England and Wales and Scotland – was produced with support from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Human Rights Commission. Disability Rights UK, Disability Wales and Inclusion Scotland led the work.


Notes to editors:

  1. The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities investigation throughout 2017 will assess what steps the UK has taken to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Committee is a body of experts, nominated and elected by governments, the majority of whom are disabled people. 

  2. The committee postponed its assessment of the UK (originally due in 2015) to investigate a complaint of the violation disabled people’s rights as a result of welfare reform. This was brought under the optional protocol of the Convention. That investigation looked only at a part of the UN Convention – with a particular focus on the impact of austerity measures and welfare reform. The current report looks at a much wider set of issues, including our laws on mental health and mental capacity, policies on employment and education and more.

  3. The committee will consider a report prepared by the UK Government but it also places particular importance on submissions from disabled people’s organisations.

  4. Related article: The UK is about to be investigated by the UN for its shameful treatment of disabled people – but does the Government care? - Independent

  5. UK is not moving quickly enough towards equality for disabled people - Express