UN Rapporteurs Question UK Government Over Benefits Deaths and Austerity - Press Release

Tue,19 March 2024
News Equality & Rights
On 18 March 2024, the UK Government provided their oral defence to the United Nations Committee for the Rights of Disabled People, regarding the UK’s “grave and systemic” violations of the UNCRDP. This comes after they refused to attend the last evidence session in August 2023 – requesting a delay to March 2024 - when Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations (DDPOs) outlined the harsh reality that we’re all currently living under in the UK.

Note: We refer to the convention as the Convention on the Rights of Disabled People (CRDP) rather than the given name - Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) - as we follow the social model of disability. The convention allows us to do this.

The UK rapporteurs, who sit on the UN Committee for the Rights of Disabled People, accurately represented the systemic barriers and discrimination that Disabled people are facing. They consistently expressed that evidence shows violations of the UNCRDP, including a regression of Disabled people’s rights.

On social security – the committee challenged the absence of a holistic approach to delivering benefits, both across devolved Governments and individuals with intersectional experiences. They specifically highlighted those in mental distress and those who experience domestic abuse, and emphasised that the current system is "trauma inducing". Their questions to the UK Government ranged from benefit related deaths and the violence of the current social security system, to the rise in Disabled people being institutionalised, incarcerated and the “increasing use of restraints, restrictive practice and coercion” – amongst other pressing issues.

Rapporteurs described current UK policy and practice as “a pervasive framework and rhetoric that devalues Disabled people’s lives” which “tells Disabled people that they’re undeserving citizens” and “makes [Disabled] people feel like criminals” – particularly those who are trying to access the social security system.

Despite detailed and thoughtful questions by the rapporteurs and committee members/commissioners, the UK Government’s response lacked any substantive answers - mostly repeating what was already outlined in their introductory oral evidence. They celebrated the Disability Action Plan and Disability Strategy, both of which lacked any transformative change, alongside highlighting impairment-specific actions they’d taken with the BSL Act – a largely performative piece of legislation that has no promised funding, and has not tangibly improved the rights of Deaf people. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act was also given as an example of progress in access to justice, and specifically BSL interpretation, when the additional police powers and attack on protest rights that this legislation has provided has in practice eroded our rights and safety.
DDPOs eagerly anticipate the committee’s full report, including their follow-up recommendations, and provide their individual comments below.

If you think that the  UNCRDP should be incorporated into UK domestic legislation, then you can use our template letter to call on your MP to push for this. You can also support our Disabled People’s Manifesto.

Quotes from DDPOs

Kamran Mallick, CEO of Disability Rights UK - “Although we are not surprised by the UK Government’s response today, we still feel that their refusal to properly engage with this process is an insult to all Disabled people whose experiences are reflected in the evidence we’ve provided to the UN.

Despite requesting a delay last year, they have provided us with no new evidence – instead signposting to plans and policies that create no transformative change. The delegation shared all the ways they believe they’ve created progress for Disabled people’s rights - but they know, just as we do, that no progress has been made. In fact, we have gone backwards.

Accessing our basic support is not a luxury – whether that be getting a GP appointment on the day that you call, or having a social security system that works for all of us. Just because our Government refuse to take responsibility on their failure to deliver this, that doesn’t mean that it’s not unacceptable.

The world is watching, and UK Government can no longer claim to be a leader in disability rights. We will continue to challenge these rights violations and ask that you join us by writing to your MP and supporting the Disabled People’s Manifesto.

John McArdle, Black Triangle Anti-Defamation Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights, Edinburgh -  “Fourteen years of rock solid persistence exposing the the murderous, democidal systems and policies of the British Conservative Government by Black Triangle Campaign and all our DPO allies and when challenged directly over the countless Benefit Deaths over the past 14 years they plead the ‘5th amendment’ - to borrow from the American lexicon - i.e. we refuse to comment for fear of incriminating ourselves. 

The U.K. government, by its acts and omissions has abrogated and repudiated its duties under this treaty convention. The United Nations will, we are certain, condemn the government in no uncertain terms once its report is published shortly. Any incoming Labour Government must pay attention to the #CRPD24 findings of fact and breach of the convention and act swiftly.”

Mark Harrison, Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance -  “The UN CRPD Committee is not fooled by the half truths,  untruths and smokescreen presented by representatives of the British government.  They know the Tories are completely hostile to human rights & equality for Disabled people. The UK delegation has presented the realities of human rights violations that demonstrate ongoing and deepening grave and systematic attacks on living standards and deaths from benefit & cuts to community support services.”

Svetlana Kotova, Inclusion London - "The UK government says it is "fully committed" to the UNCRDP, but it could not tell the UN any steps it has taken towards the UN's recommendations given in 2017 when the UK was found to have committed grave and systematic violations of our rights. This is because there has been no progress since the government rejected those findings and all recommendations. We continue to be detained and kept in institutions, with no progress towards our right to independent living, and the government is doing nothing to lift us out of poverty caused by its punitive benefits sanction regime. We hope the UN's further report will outline these failures and call for the government to make the drastic and urgent changes we need to enjoy our human rights like everyone else."

Rhian Davies, Disability Wales - The evidence we heard from the UK Government is far removed from the reality of disabled people's lives and experiences since 2016. We are not shocked, but appalled by the lack of acknowledgement concerning the deaths of disabled people awaiting assessment decisions, the criticism of DDPO’s regarding recent policy such as the Health and Disability White Paper or the harm caused by the disablist "benefit scroungers" stereotyping promoted by the UK Government. 

In Wales, although we are glad to see mention of the Disability Rights Taskforce and Locked Out report, we are disheartened that there was no mention that 68% percent of COVID-19 deaths in Wales were disabled people and that we still do not have a clear timeline on incorporation of the UNCRDP into Welsh Law. 

Disabled people deserve true accountability from their Governments and answers to the burning questions posed yesterday together with robust actions to address the harms inflicted as well as progress our rights. We thank the United Nations Committee and the UK Rapporteurs for their strong questioning and the opportunity to have shared evidence with them last August." 

Tony O’Reilly, on behalf of the Northern Irish Delegation (North West Disability Forum NI, Omnibus NI and Disabled People Against the Cuts NI) - “Over these last months we gave our evidence to the UNCDP Committee supported by facts and the strong testimony of deaf and disabled people. All of us together sought to shine a light on the truth of our perilous situation . The fact that the UK Government and the devolved administrations sought to hide in the dark refusing to answer directly the questions of this esteemed Committee is shameful and another barrier to the full realisation of our human rights as deaf and disabled people. But we know the Committee valued and respected our contribution. Our efforts will not be in vain. Our fight for justice, equality and human dignity will continue to flourish thanks to the work and support of DPAC and the wider coalition of UK DDPO’s.”

Quotes from Trade Unions

Brett Sparkes and Andy Mitchell, Unite the Union - “Unite are concerned about the effect of the government policy on our disabled members. The continued use of divisive language and the rhetoric of labeling disabled workers as lazy is not only wrong but detrimental to our members. The UK delegation to the UN CRPD has done nothing to alleviate those concerns.”  

Emma Cotton, Social Security and Tax Adviser, Equity - “It is disappointing to see that the UK state did not engage with the UK rapporteurs questions but no surprise. For the past decade, rights to social security for Equity members particularly the deaf and disabled, have been progressively eroded. No access to the UK safety net for the self-employed will directly impact who we see on our stages and screens.”

Natasha Hirst, President NUJ -  "The UK Government has not stood up well to the scrutiny of the Committee. Their empty assertions of being committed to improving disabled people’s lives are in clear contrast with the daily reality of poverty, exclusion and a frequently punitive social security system. Planned reforms and continued negative rhetoric about disabled people will only make things worse. There is still much work to do to hold the government to account and expose the daily injustices that disabled people experience.”

Ann Galpin, TUC Disabled Workers' Committee co-chair - "The Government spokesperson talked about closing the pay gap, yet has done nothing to implement mandatory disability employment and pay gap reporting which the TUC, unions and Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations have been campaigning for for years.”

Lee Starr-Elliot, Deaf CWU Trade Union Rep - "The responses of the U.K. government Delegation were disappointing but not surprising as they seem to be acting as if they know they will not be accountable after the next General Election. We as disabled people need reassurances that whatever happens politically in the U.K. our Governmentis held to account and any recommendations made will be binding going forward regardless of Party in power. We at the CWU are also disappointed and concerned that the current U.K. government is proposing to to reintroduce Employment Tribunal fees which would majorly impact disabled workers who already face barriers in pay and other disability related costs, and urge both the U.K. Government and The UN special rapporteurs to seriously address these concerns going forward."

Paul Ntulila, Deaf DPAC - “In response to the government announcements about the steps they have taken to improve access for disabled people, I found it disappointing that further cuts have been made to funding, creating confusion on the actual action that has been taken and how these cuts will further impact the disabled community as a whole. Although disappointing, I feel now is the time to take action. We need to be working together to fight for the rights of all disabled people. We are fighting not only for ourselves but also future generations. It is the responsibility of our government to protect all individuals and implement the changes they have committed to provide.”