UK Government Faces UN For Violation of Disability Rights

Tue,5 March 2024
News Equality & Rights
On March 18th, the UK Government will finally face up to the United Nations (UN), giving evidence on their violations of Disabled people’s rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons. The UN investigated the UK Government in 2016, with the UK being found guilty of systemic violations in 2017. As a UN committee spokeswoman declared, “the committee can confirm that some violations were grave, some others were systematic, and some were both: grave and systematic.”

The UN Committee reconvenes in March, to hear what action the UK Government has taken since 2017, to correct their record of human rights violations. The session on 18th March follows a hearing last August, at which the UK Government should have given evidence alongside Disabled People’s Organisations, but the Government failed to attend. 

Three key UN Convention Articles are being reviewed, Article19 (independent living), article 27 (work and employment) and article 28 (adequate standard of living and social protection). The breaches were caused directly by Government policies and services between 2010 and 2015.  

When Disabled people and Disabled-led organisations gave evidence last August, we detailed how instead of things improving since 2017, Government policies, funding and services had further declined, leading to severe, enduring and worsening impacts on the lives of Disabled people in the UK. It is vital that as many people, organisations and campaigners as possible publicise this upcoming hearing in March, so the UK government can be held to account for a policy agenda that has led to the widespread erosion of the rights of Disabled citizens across the UK. 

History of the UNCRPD and Investigation of the UK Government 

The Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons was opened for signature on 30 March 2007, with 82 signatories to the Convention, the highest number of signatories in history to a UN Convention on its opening day. The Convention came into force on 3 May 2008, with the UK signing up to the Convention in 2009. 

In 2016 the UK was investigated under the Optional Protocol of the UN CRPD following a formal request from several disability organisations, with Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) leading the charge. The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities found that ‘grave and systematic violations’ of Disabled persons’ rights had taken place because of austerity measures and welfare reforms since 2010, which had ‘disproportionately and adversely’ affected the rights of Disabled people. The Committee specifically cited changes to Housing Benefit, eligibility criteria for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and social care, and the cessation of the Independent Living Fund as evidence of these violations. 

In 2017, as part of the ongoing investigation, the UN conducted a review of how the UK had implemented the UNCRPD. Various Disabled Peoples Organisations (DPOs) gave evidence on the gross injustices Disabled people were experiencing in the UK at the hands of government policies, highlighting the government’s dismissal of many of the questions the UN raised. 

After hearing the evidence, the UN called for a UK wide strategy on disability, focused on the urgent enactment of the UNCRPD. A particular focus was placed on ensuring the implementation of the Equality Act, enshrining CRPD rights into UK legislation, and more joined up working to protect Disabled people’s rights across each region of the UK. 

 In August 2023, the UK Government was asked to report to the UN on any advancement it had made in implementing the UN’s recommendations. As the hearing approached, it became clear that the UK Government refused to attend the UN meeting, no reasons were provided. It is thought that their inability to be able to present a positive narrative and a fear of public scrutiny may have been the cause.  

As the news broke that the UK Government weren’t attending, Kamran Mallick, DR UK’s CEO said: 

“Time and again the Government is refusing to engage with Deaf and Disabled people in a meaningful way. It has launched a Disability Action Plan but is still not listening to the acute needs of Disabled people. 

If Disabled people are able to attend this important meeting, despite all the barriers that go with our ability to cross Europe to attend, why can the Government not attend? 

The refusal to attend this important meeting feels like yet another kick in the teeth.” 

Disabled people and organisations called to give evidence in Geneva gave powerful and damning testimony of the impact of ableist government policies on Disabled communities – all without a single UK Government representative in sight. DPOs launched a scathing attack  on the worsening violations of our rights and humanity. 

What's happening on March 18th? 

The reason this upcoming hearing at the UN is so significant is because it’s the first time the UK Government will be scrutinised on the world stage in over 6 years. Following on from their absence in August 2023 and request for a postponement until now, they can no longer evade accountability. We must make sure as many people as possible are aware of the ongoing UN investigation and outcomes, so that the government feels the full force of pressure from the grassroots combined with international and legislative enforcement. 

Disabled activists have been fighting for decades against our institutionalisation, isolation and deprivation – it's time the world started to listen. 

Watch The Hearing!

When? Monday, March 18th, 2024

What time? 2pm-3:30pm UK time (it will be happening at 3pm on Geneva's timezone). If you cannot watch it live, the recording should be ready afterwards on the link below.

Where? You can watch it online via UN livestream website, at this link.

The hearing will be signed in International Sign, which is different to BSL. There will also be live, embedded captions on the live stream.