Britain has been judged by the UN to be failing on disability. Is there nothing that can't crumble under the Tories?

To access even the limited support that there is requires navigating the sort of course that even Grand National winning super jockey Ruby Walsh might baulk at

Life for disabled people is getting tougher under the Tories despite nice pamphlets
Life for disabled people is getting tougher under the Tories despite nice pamphlets

“Imagine what being disabled in Africa is like.”

You hear that surprisingly often. The most recent occurrence for me was when my wife alerted me to a (fierce) debate on Mumsnet on the subject of disabled parking (“Blue badge spaces don’t exist over there!”).

The subtext to the argument that I’m paraphrasing (it was deleted quickly and I’m happy to say the poster was quickly shot down, go mums!) is this: “It could be a lot worse for you lot, so just shut the hell up and be thankful for what you’ve got.”

No. Sorry, but no. I’m not going to shut up the hell up because the fact is the UK is a rich first-world country that should be doing better, and would be doing better, if it gave a damn about its disabled citizens.

Woman confronts Theresa May over disability payment cuts

Living with disabilities in today’s Britain is difficult at best, and it’s getting worse. Our execrable Government is a big reason for that.

The reason I’m writing about this today in particular isn’t just because of a fuss on Mumsnet. It is because that Government is appearing before the UN Committee on the Rights of Disabled People, which is evaluating its compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People – the UK became a signatory to in 2009.

The hearings in Geneva this week represent the resumption of a process that was parked in 2015 to allow the Committee to launch a special inquiry into the cuts imposed as part of the UK’s welfare reform programme, in response to complaints from disabled people’s organisations.

The outcome of that process was a bitingly critical report that ministers have basically ignored, while their supporters have sought to imply that the UN is grandstanding. They’ve tried to criticise the process with the aim of blowing smoke at the issue to provide cover for the fact that the Committee’s conclusions are hard to fault. Why are they looking at us? What about disabled people in Africa?

The renewed assessment process looks at the overall picture of disabled life in the UK, including issues such as detentions under mental health legislation, employment, education, transport, access to the justice system and housing.

Already, disabled people’s organisations have attacked the Government’s written response to the Committee for glossing over problems in these areas, while failing to answer the questions they have raised.

Disability Rights UK had this to say: “Many of the Government’s answers have a tone of complacency at best and high-handed evasion at worst.

“The Government produced no evidence or detail to show how it is supporting people to lead independent lives; something it committed to when it ratified the convention in 2009. The Government document also makes grand claims about the impact of the Equality Act and the Care Act that simply don’t reflect the everyday experiences of disabled people in the UK.”

Having read through the response (and what fun that was) I can concur. It’s full of we’re doing this, and this, and this. We’re committed to this, and this and this. We’re great! We’re lovely! We’re super!

Much is made of the Equalities Act, which is a progressive piece of legislation and looks good on paper (although it fails to guarantee a right to independent living).

The problem is that it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if there is no enforcement to back it up. And, surprise, surprise: there aren’t any examples of that given.

The Government’s paper often goes into detail about the support that is supposed to be offered (imagine if you were disabled in Africa!). For example legal aid is mentioned. But cuts to it that restrict its availability, and therefore limit the ability of disabled people to access justice, are not.

There is nothing concrete on how disabled people can access that right to independent living under the convention, and, of course, nothing to answer the criticisms of the cuts to support under welfare reform that have served to restrict it.

Employment is covered by reference to the Government’s Disability Confident scheme, which is a PR stunt. Meanwhile one admission the Government does make is that there isn’t even an accurate measure of the wage gap between disabled people and non-disabled people.

“Measurement of the disability pay gap is complex; limitations to data sources and methodologies need to be overcome to measure it robustly.” For the record, the Government thinks the difference might have been about £2 an hour back in 2015 (£12.20 vs £14.10).

And so it goes on. The rise in detentions under the Mental Health Act, the increasing number of disabled children forced out of mainstream schools, the crisis in social care. It’s hard to get even a fraction of the issues facing disabled people into just one column. I’d need a book to do it effectively.

However, I can very easily sum up the Government ’s 11,000-word, 34-page missive.

Look at our super-duper policies! We think disabled people are lovely! We’re doing this. And this. And this.

No. No, you are doing some PR and hoping people won’t notice the reality of life for disabled people on the ground. It is extremely difficult at best. And, as a result of this Government’s policies, it’s getting harder.

To access even the limited support that there is to be able to enjoy the sort of life non-disabled people take for granted – benefits that are supposed to level the playing field, a blue badge, help with getting a job, legal protection, protection from abuse – requires navigating the sort of course that even Grand National0winning super-jockey Ruby Walsh might baulk at.

If you do get across the finish line – and believe me it’s an awful lot easier to do if you’re middle class and have the skills necessary to navigate the state’s Kafka-esque systems – you soon realise it isn’t all that.

There are parts of Africa where it is indeed very much worse than it is here.

But despite having signed up to the Convention, the UK, far from trying to be top of the league, seems intent on doing its best to give its disabled citizens a taste of what that feels like.

It just wants to do so with a smiley face. Here, have you signed up to the Disability Confident Scheme? Hiring disabled people is a lovely thing to do!

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