By Sue Jones
I reported last year that the UK is to be investigated formally by the United Nations because of allegations of “systematic and grave” violations of disabled people’s human rights.
In August I wrote that officials from the United Nation’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) are to visit Britain. The inquiry is confidential, and those giving evidence have been asked to sign a confidentiality agreement.
A United Nations team have arrived in the UK and it’s understood they will visit Manchester, London, Bristol, as well as parts of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The United Nations team are also expecting to meet with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, members of parliament, individual campaigners and disabled people’s organisations, representatives from local authorities and academics.
The team will be gathering direct evidence from individuals about the impact of government austerity measures, with a focus on benefit cuts and sanctions; cuts to social care; cuts to legal aid; the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF); the adverse impact of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA); the shortage of accessible and affordable housing; the impact of the bedroom tax on disabled people, and also the rise in disability hate crime.
In 2013, Amnesty International condemned the erosion of human rights of disabled people in UK, and the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights conducted an inquiry into the UK Government’s implementation of Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – the right to live independently and to be included in the community. The inquiry, which began in 2011, has received evidence from over 300 witnesses.
The inquiry highlighted just how little awareness, understanding and employment of the Convention there is by the (then) Tory-led Government. Very few of the witnesses made specific reference to the Convention in their presented evidence, despite the inquiry being conducted by the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, with the terms of reference clearly framing the inquiry as being about Article 19 of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities. (UNCRPD.)
“This finding is of international importance”, said Oliver Lewis, MDAC Executive Director.
He added: “Our experience is that some Governments are of the view that the CRPD is nothing more than a policy nicety, rather than a treaty which sets out legal obligations which governments must fulfil.”
The report was particularly critical of the Minister for Disabled People (Maria Miller, at the time) who told the Committee that the CRPD was “soft law”. The Committee criticised this as “indicative of an approach to the treaty which regards the rights it protects as being of less normative force than those contained in other human rights instruments.” (See the full report.) The Committee’s view is that the CRPD is hard law, not soft law.
In August, I wrote about how the inquiry was triggered by campaigners and groups using the convention’s optional protocol, (which the last Labour government signed us up to, in addition to the convention.) The protocol allows individuals (and groups) who are affected by violations to submit formal complaint to the UNCRPD.
The deadline for evidence submissions to the UNCRPD is thought to be 31 October.
Contact details are here.