Tory austerity has 'gravely and systematically' violated disabled people's rights, UN says

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green rejected the report as 'patronising and offensive' 

Alexandra Sims
Wednesday 09 November 2016 00:26
Demonstrators hold placards as they gather to protest against government changes to the welfare system and the proposed 'Bedroom Tax' in 2013
Demonstrators hold placards as they gather to protest against government changes to the welfare system and the proposed 'Bedroom Tax' in 2013

The Government has dismissed a United Nations report declaring that Conservative welfare cuts have resulted in “grave violations” of the rights of disabled people.

The damning report by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) found the cuts had “disproportionately” impacted disabled people, and attacked changes in housing benefits, changes in eligibility criteria for the "moving around" component under the Personal Independence Payment, the tightening of criteria to access social care and the closure of the Independent Living Fund.

Members of a UN committee consisting of 18 independent experts visited Britain in October 2015 and the report was based on more than 200 interviews and some 3,000 pages of documentary evidence.

The 22-page report criticised welfare cuts and caps introduced under the former Welfare Secretary Ian Duncan Smith, who was forced to resign in March after the austerity programme the government said would make the welfare system fairer and reduce benefit fraud, was criticised as "a compromise too far".

The so-called "bedroom tax", or the removal of what Government ministers have called the "spare room subsidy" for housing benefit claimants in social housing with an extra bedroom, was also criticised in the report, along with the cap on household benefits and changes to local housing allowances.

"The committee notes that, in multiple cases, social housing size criteria failed to recognise the specific living arrangements that persons with disabilities require in connection with their impairment and respect of their autonomy, will and preferences," the report said.

"The committee observes that measures have caused financial hardship to persons with disabilities resulting in ... arrears, debts, evictions and cuts to essentials such as housing and food."

In its conclusion, the CPRD said: "The committee considers that there is reliable evidence that the threshold of grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities has been met in the state party (the UK)."

The committee made 11 recommendations to the UK government, including urging a complete impact assessment of reforms introduced since 2010.

But, in a point-by-point rebuttal, as long as the committee's 10,000 word report, the Government said the UN inquiry was too narrow in scope and it did not plan to follow up on its recommendations any further.

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green rejected the report as "patronising and offensive".

"At the heart of this report lies an outdated view of disability which is patronising and offensive. We strongly refute its findings," he said.

"The UN measures success as the amount of money poured into the system, rather than the work and health outcomes for disabled people. Our focus is on helping disabled people find and stay in work, whilst taking care of those who can't.

"The UK is a recognised world leader in disabled rights and equality. Not only do we spend around £50 billion a year to support sick and disabled people - more of our GDP than countries including Canada, France and the USA - but we also offer a wide range of tailored and effective support, which this report fails to recognise.

"Our Work and Health Green Paper marks a turning point in our action to confront the attitudes, prejudices and misunderstandings within the minds of employers and across wider society."

Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams said: "The UN report confirms that, despite Theresa May's warm words, this Government is failing sick and disabled people."

Dan Scorer, head of policy at Mencap, told the Guardian: “This report is further acknowledgement that cutting disabled people’s benefits will only make life harder and isolate people further from inclusion in employment and wider society. People with a learning disability face massive exclusion from the labour market, and have seen their benefits and funding for vital social care services reduced.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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