No progress since 2016 on "grave and systemic" violations of Disabled people's rights - UN report says

Thu,25 April 2024
News Equality & Rights

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Disabled People has published their much anticipated report on the UK Government’s violations of Disabled people’s rights. This follows an oral evidence session at the United Nations in March, where the UK Government was questioned by the committee on its violations. You can read our full response to the March evidence session on our website.

The report sets out the UK Government’s violations of international law. Specifically, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People (UNCRDP). This report is a follow up from the UN’s 2016 report which found “grave and systemic” violations of Disabled people’s rights.

The UN committee has found no progress since 2016 -  stating that "the State party has failed to take all appropriate measures to address grave and systematic violations of the human rights of persons with disabilities and has failed to eliminate the root causes of inequality and discrimination." 

In addition to no progress, there is evidence of regression. The committee noted that any reforms and policies that have been undertaken to provide financial support, accessible housing and transport were "inadequate considering the cost-of-living crisis." 

The committee also highlighted that the Government's obligation to "consult and actively involve disabled people through their representative organizations in decision-making affecting their lives" has also been "largely unaddressed". 

The committee argues that UNCRDP article 8 - which obligates the UK Government to combat stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices - has been ignored to justify welfare reform. The committee described our social security system as having "a pervasive framework and rhetoric that devalues disabled people and undermines their human dignity." and that "reforms within social welfare benefits are premised on a notion that disabled people are undeserving and wilfully avoiding employment (“skiving off”) and defrauding the system. This has resulted in hate speech and hostility towards disabled people."

This comes less than a week since the Prime Minister announced new welfare reforms on the justification that the UK had a "sick note culture" which needed tackling, and that accessing social security had become a "lifestyle choice". 

This special inquiry focused on three UNCRDP articles. They include Article 19 (Living independently and being included in the community), Article 27 (work and employment), and Article 28 (Adequate standard of living and social protection). Specific concerns over the violations of these articles ranged from DWP spying and its use of biased AI tools, to inadequate support for disabled refugees, asylum seekers and those in refugee-like situations and an increase in the harmful institutionalisation of Disabled people. 

On supporting Disabled people into employment, the UN report states that current policies like the Work Capability Assessment are "not suitable to assist people to be job ready.” 

The committee re-iterated the same recommendations from 2016, and added the following: 

  • Establish a nationally consistent framework that "closely consult[s] and actively involve[s]" Disabled people and our organisations.
  • Take all measurs to prevent, review, and respond to occurrences of benefit deaths - including reparations for victims' families. 
  • Make disability hate crime law a criminal offence - ensuring nationally consistent protection. 
  • Hold an inquiry on the WCA and reform it to a holistic, trauma-informed process, which is based on the human rights model of disability.
  • Develop a nationally consistent strategy which enables Disabled people to live independently. (i.e. fill labour shortages to ensure effective access to disability and mental health services, including access to recreational activities, and 24/7 accessible transport.)
  • Reform the current welfare system so that social security payments adequately support Disabled people.
  • Ensure those with intersectional identities – including migrants and asylum seekers – enjoy the right to live independently and can be included in the community.
  • Restrict the institutionalisation of Disabled people and investigate unsafe practices and unexplained deaths.
  • Ensure any monitoring of social security claimants has safeguards in place, particularly regarding the use of AI, and ensure that “such technologies are deployed in a manner that respects human rights, prevents discrimination, and upholds the principles of transparency, accountability, and fairness.”
  • Ensure all measures are underpinned by the human rights model of disability.

The detailed list can be found in the report. 

Kamran Mallick, CEO of Disability Rights UK, said:

“Despite having 7 years to do so, the UK Government has made no progress on improving the rights of Disabled people. Instead - our rights, access to support, and the provision of services have all deteriorated, with an increase in hostility and hate.

Under this Government, the UK has lost its status as a nation that leads in disability rights to one that is actively attacking Disabled people. In just the last week we have seen an onslaught of new policy proposals and legislation which will not only harm us but also lead to avoidable deaths. The UN’s report highlighted how at least 600 Disabled people have died at the hands of DWP practice and policy in the last 3 years. The danger we face is further exacerbated for those of us who experience intersecting oppressions, like Disabled refugees. 

At a time when we’re all struggling to make ends meet and cannot access the healthcare and support that we need, the Government are scapegoating Disabled people for a failing economy.

We are not at fault for simply existing. The Government are at fault for their complete disregard for international law and contempt for Disabled people’s rights.”


Rick Burgess from Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People said: 

"We now have UN reports covering the last 14 years, that find not only no progress has been made, but there is regression and the grave and systemic abuses of our rights continues, as do thousands of excess deaths. We can no longer view this as a failure, we have to confront the reality that the Government has chosen this path of disablist abuse and as the speech by PM Rishi Sunak showed, they intend to intensify the attacks on us. Where are our allies in society who will join with disabled people to defeat this toxic agenda?"


Svetlana Kotova from Inclusion London said:

"It is shocking that our country that positions itself as a world leader is yet again found to breach our rights on a systematic level.  It is also shocking that the government has failed to listen to the UN in the past and has actively dismissed the previous recommendations. 

We welcome the report and urge the government and the opposition to take it seriously and develop policies on welfare reform, employment and independent living that comply with the UK’s obligations under the UNCRDP.  The report shows that the current system is not fit for purpose and the government cannot carry on punishing Disabled people. We urge the government and the opposition to commit to genuine cooperation and co-production with Disabled people and our organisations, as per recommendation (a), so that we can design a system that works."


Andy Greene from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), National Steering Group, said: 

"As ever, these inquiries capture another chapter in the story disabled people have been telling for well over a decade now. The most powerful service they provide though is to vindicate those who tell this and those who resist and push back against what’s going on. The process of evidence gathering, taking witness testimony and objective scrutiny of policy & its impact, is one that’s very difficult to ridicule or dismiss. The facts speak for themselves. The story never ends  - but neither does the fightback. Disabled people won’t be just victims, passive characters in a tragedy. This is an epic, with many chapters yet to come. And a twist in the tale”.


You can read the UK Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations’ Coalition's press release in the document below. 

DDPO Coalition Press Release on UN report