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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

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.

ENDS

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

Endorsements for DR UK – UNCRPD Reports

Royal Mencap Society is pleased to endorse the shadow report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We encouraged our network of local groups to attend events, and in the contents of the report we recognise the very serious inequalities and discrimination still faced by people with a learning disability. The report sets this out clearly in relation to premature mortality, where 1,200 people with a learning disability die avoidably in the NHS every year, and women with a learning disability die 20 years earlier than the general population. It makes important points in relation to the lack of investigation into deaths and learning from mistakes The report also makes important points about the ongoing failure of the government and health service to act in relation to the 3,800 people who are in in-patient settings, and the treatment they face in relation to the use of dangerous restraint, seclusion and inappropriate use of anti-psychotic medication. There is universal agreement that a large percentage of this group should live in the community with appropriate support. However, nearly 6 years after the Winterbourne View abuse scandal was exposed, the promised changes have still not been delivered.

We also welcome the report’s strong focus on rights to access information, the treatment of parents with a learning disability, and the barriers people with a learning disability experience in relation to accessing employment.

Janine Tregelles

Chief Executive

Royal Mencap Society

123 Golden Lane

London

EC1Y 0RT

Spectrum

Thank you for sending a copy of the report "Implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Alternative report - Great Britain" Led by Inclusion Scotland, Disability Rights UK and Disability Wales.

On behalf of SPECTRUM Centre for Independent Living, I offer our full support and endorsement of this report.

Ian Loynes

Chief Executive

SPECTRUM Centre for Independent Living CIC

Phil Friend

I'm writing to let you know that I fully support Disability Rights UK's report concerning Implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

I like many other disabled people in the UK are becoming increasingly concerned about the erosion of our human rights and the protections which we have come to expect.

Anything that you can do to alert the United Nations to the concerns of disabled people in the UK is very welcome.

Phil Friend

Ambassador, Disability Rights UK

Sir Bert Massie

I am happy to give the Report my full support.  As a rights advocate for over 50 years, I witnessed the introduction of many of the support mechanism for disabled people that various governments of different political colours introduced.  Your report to the UN vividly underlines my view that since 2010 there have been no significant improvements in support of disabled people but, on the contrary, many services have been reduced or abolished.  In my life-time I have not witnessed such an sustained attack of disabled by a British Government that has taken place since 2010.  There is little doubt that disabled people have borne a disproportionate share of the Government’s austerity measures and this flies in the face of any concept of fairness and social justice.

Sir Bert Massie CBE, DL

RT Hon Dame Anne McGuire 

As Minister for Disabled People in 2007, it was my privilege to sign the Convention at the special meeting of the General Assembly of the UN in New York.  There was an air of optimism at that time and the ratification in 2009 by the UK was widely seen as yet another step towards equality for disabled people in this country.

However, a great deal of that optimism has disappeared over the years, and I congratulate the authors of this Report in identifying and highlighting the major areas of concern. There is real danger that the situation will continue to get worse as the report identifies.

The report is not only based on an academic assessment of the situation, but on the experience of disabled people themselves which gives it added value.

I wish that disabled people in the UK would have been able to give a more optimistic assessment on the implementation of the UN Convention, but sadly this cannot be. I hope that this report will allow those in government at all levels to reflect on how their actions, or lack of action, have allowed this situation to develop.

RT Hon Dame Anne McGuire

Baroness Jane Campbell of Surbiton

You have my endorsement – I am hosting the launch!

All good wishes Jane

Baroness Jane Campbell of Surbiton

Dr Lucy Series

I am pleased to give my support to the shadow report. It represents an important process of engagement between civil society and the rights contained in the CRPD. I look forward to further capacity building work among UK DPOs on issues pertaining to legal capacity and human rights. 

Dr Lucy Series

Research Associate

Cardiff Law School

 Peter Mittler

I’m glad to give my full support to this report and have also sent it to a few members of the House of Lords with an interest in disability (see attachment).

Peter Mittler

Emeritus Professor of Special Needs Education

University of Manchester

George Szmukler

I am pleased to give my endorsement to the Shadow Report.

George Szmukler

Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry and Society

Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience

King’s College London