UK faces UN examination: Government cuts caused ‘human catastrophe’

An international committee of disabled human rights experts have delivered a series of withering attacks on the UK government over its failure to implement the UN disability convention.

Following a two-day public examination of the UK’s progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the committee said it was “deeply concerned” that the UK government still believed it was a “champion of human rights”.

The committee’s chair, Theresia Degener, from Germany, told the UK government’s delegation that its cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe”, which was “totally neglecting the vulnerable situation people with disabilities find themselves in”.

Stig Langvad, the committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) member who is leading the UK examination, said the government had failed to demonstrate its commitment to the convention.

He said the government had failed to answer many questions put to it by the committee over the two days, and that it had “become evident that the committee has a very different perception of how human rights should be understood and implemented” than the UK government.

He called on the UK to develop a “concrete strategy which is sufficiently funded” to “fully acknowledge and implement the convention”.

Langvad said the committee was “deeply concerned” about the government’s refusal to recognise the findings and recommendations of the committee’s earlier inquiry, which concluded last November that there had been “grave and systematic violations” of three key parts of the convention.

He said: “We expect the state party to take the appropriate measures to address the recommendations of our inquiry report.”

Langvad added: “I could provide a long list of examples where the state party doesn’t live up to the convention. Unfortunately, the time is too limited.”

Coomaravel Pyaneandee, a vice-chair of the committee, had earlier told the UK delegation: “I want to see you coming back as world leader, which at the moment I am afraid you’re not, but disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) from whom I draw inspiration are in fact the world leaders in your country.”

Many representatives of DPOs – including Inclusion London, the Alliance for Inclusive Education, Disabled People Against Cuts, Equal Lives, Black Triangle, Disability Rights UK, Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales – had travelled to Geneva for the public examination, and had provided detailed evidence to Pyaneandee and the committee members on the government’s failings.

Karen Jochelson, the head of the Office for Disability Issues, who led the UK delegation, insisted that the UK was “determined to remain a global lead in disability issues”.

She said that UK laws provided “a strong framework for ensuring and progressing the rights of disabled people” although there was “more still to be done in all aspects of society and life” to progressively realise the convention.

At the start of the two-day examination, Jochelson had delivered a statement from the minister for disabled people, Penny Mordaunt, in which she claimed that the UK had been “a global leader in driving forward disability rights and promoting inclusion” and that it could even be a “catalyst” to “help our international partners achieve more on this agenda”.

A representative of the Department for Work and Pensions told the committee that the government “takes very seriously its duty to protect the most vulnerable people”, and added: “We stand by the reforms to the UK benefit system.”

Jochelson ended by saying that it was “right that the UK is scrutinised carefully and we have welcomed this” and that this reflected Mordaunt’s pledge that the UK would “continue to progress disabled people’s rights and consult with disabled people on government policy and public services”.

Two of the key issues that were raised several times by committee members were disabled people’s right to independent living and the treatment of people in secure mental health settings (see separate stories).

Among other issues address by the committee were the discrimination faced by disabled people when accessing healthcare; the government’s plans to increase the number of disabled people in employment; and the disability pay gap.

It also examined disabled people’s engagement in democracy; the fall in the number of disabled children in mainstream education and the failure to move towards a fully inclusive education system; parents with learning difficulties who have had their children taken away from them; and disabled people who have lost their benefits in the move from disability living allowance to personal independence payment.

24 August 2017

 

 

UK faces UN examination: DPOs ‘delighted’ with exposure of government’s failings

Disabled people’s organisations who travelled to Geneva this week to help highlight the government’s continuing human rights violations have praised a UN committee of disabled experts for publicly exposing the UK’s failings.

Civil servants from eight UK government departments, and the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, were grilled over two days about the UK’s record in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The two days ended with the chair of the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD), Theresia Degener, telling the UK government that its cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe” (see separate story).

Another CRPD member, Stig Langvad, said members were “deeply concerned” by the government’s failure to implement the convention, and delivered a withering putdown, telling the UK delegation: “I could provide a long list of examples where the state party doesn’t live up to the convention. Unfortunately, the time is too limited.”

Among the DPOs that travelled to Geneva were representatives of Inclusion London, the Alliance for Inclusive Education, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Equal Lives, Black Triangle, Disability Rights UK, Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said “We are all exhausted but delighted with how the week has gone.

“We felt that the CRPD committee listened to the evidence presented by the unprecedented number of DDPO [Deaf and disabled people’s organisation] representatives who attended the sessions and while it is a shame that the government continues to deny the existence of serious rights regressions and the brutal impact of their policies, it was inspiring to be part of the collective effort by Deaf and disabled people across the UK to ensure our voices are heard.”

Ellen Clifford, from DPAC, added: “The UK government representatives were shameless in their obfuscation and misrepresentations of information in response to questions by the disability committee members but the weakness of their answers also showed how fragile their position is in continuing to try to deny the brutal and devastating impacts of their policies.

“What Deaf and disabled people have achieved in Geneva this week shows how formidable we can be when we come together and we now need to take that back to the UK to continue fighting for our rights.”

Sally Witcher, from Inclusion Scotland, said: “We wholeheartedly welcome the committee’s comments on the UK.

“The government has not been allowed to get away with evasive responses which disregard the lived experiences of Deaf and disabled people throughout the UK.”

Rhian Davies, from Disability Wales, said: “This has been a historical week for the disabled people’s movement and one that we are proud to have played our part in.”

Members of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) questioned civil servants from the Office for Disability Issues, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Health, the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Transport, the Department for Education, the Home Office and the Foreign Office, as well as civil servants from the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Key issues raised repeatedly by the committee over the two days included the impact of cuts to disabled people’s support to live independently; the discriminatory treatment of people in secure mental health settings; and the failure of the government to engage with disabled people and their organisations.

The committee also asked about discrimination in the housing market; the “disproportionate” levels of violence and abuse experienced by disabled women, and the support available to them; the “high levels of poverty” experienced by disabled people; the availability of accessible information; and the shortage of British Sign Language interpreters.

Other issues raised included the institutionalisation of children with mental health conditions; the economic impact of Brexit on disabled people; the impact of cuts and reforms to legal aid and the introduction of employment tribunal fees on disabled people’s access to justice; and the levels of bullying experienced by disabled children.

24 August 2017

 

 

UK faces UN examination: Government agrees to think again on engagement

The government has agreed to “reflect” on its failure to engage with disabled people and their organisations, after facing public criticism from a UN committee of disabled human rights experts.

A delegation of civil servants from across the UK government listened as members of the UN committee on the rights of person with disabilities (CRPD) repeatedly criticised its failure to engage with disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).

They were taking part in a two-day public examination of the UK’s progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in Geneva.

CRPD member Samuel Njuguna Kabue said the evidence he had received from DPOs disputed the UK government’s claim that it consulted with disabled people and their organisations when drawing up policies and making decisions.

He said disabled people and their organisations said they had not been “adequately involved” in monitoring the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as they should be under article 33 of the convention.

Another member, Monthian Buntan, also disputed the UK government’s claim that it was committed to enabling the active participation of disabled people in decision-making, and forming and implementing and monitoring policy.

He called for more detail from the government on whether it had taken action to “ensure the support which enabled organisations of persons with disabilities to really effectively participate in this ongoing process of decision-making, implementation and monitoring”.

And he contrasted the UK government’s apparent failure with the efforts of the devolved governments.

Karen Jochelson, the head of the Office for Disability Issues, who led the UK delegation, said the government was planning to use the “concluding observations” of the committee, when they were published, “to help inform our future thinking on engagement”.

She said: “We have noted this dialogue’s emphasis on engaging with disabled people and DPOs in decision-making and policy-making.

“We will reflect on this as we plan our next steps following publication of the concluding observations.”

24 August 2017

 

 

UK faces UN examination: Government criticised over independent living

The government has been criticised over its commitment to independent living by a disabled member of the UN committee investigating the UK’s record on disability rights.

The criticism came during a public examination in Geneva of the UK’s record in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Civil servants from eight UK government departments, and the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, were being grilled yesterday and today (Thursday) by members of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD).

Robert Martin, a CRPD member, asked the UK government to explain why it had cut funding for disabled people’s services and support.

He said: “I would like to know why you have cut access to funding in services, including benefits and advocacy services, especially for people with what you call mild or moderate disability.

“If you cut funding in services, the people will lose the ability to live independently in the community. And that is not a way forward if you want to implement the convention.”

One of the committee’s vice-chairs, Danlami Umaru Basharu, also asked the civil servants to explain the consequences of the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF).

None of these questions appeared to be answered by the UK government delegation.

Disabled activists conducted a high-profile campaign to keep the fund open but it finally closed in June 2015, with research later showing that many former ILF-users subsequently experienced substantial cuts to their care packages.

After it closed, non-ring-fenced funding was transferred to councils in England and to devolved governments in Wales and Scotland. Scotland has since set up its own fund.

Basharu asked the UK government representatives how the government would ensure that disabled people “are not negatively affected” by this transition.

This question was also not answered by the UK government.

The committee have asked questions on a huge range of issues affecting disabled people’s rights under the convention, including discrimination in the housing market; the “disproportionate” levels of violence and abuse experienced by disabled women, and the support available to them; the “high levels of poverty” experienced by disabled people; the availability of accessible information; and the shortage of British Sign Language interpreters.

Other questions raised included the institutionalisation of children with mental health conditions; the economic impact of Brexit on disabled people; the impact of cuts and reforms to legal aid and the introduction of employment tribunal fees on disabled people’s access to justice; and the levels of bullying experienced by disabled children.

24 August 2017

 

 

UK faces UN examination: Call for action over mental health detentions

The UK government has faced repeated, damning criticism from a UN committee of disabled human rights experts over its treatment of people in secure mental health settings.

The criticism came during a two-day public examination in Geneva of the UK’s record in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Members of the committee raised concerns about the increase in the use of compulsory detention, the use of Tasers, and the “discriminatory and disproportionate” use of detention on people from Britain’s African Caribbean communities.

Martin Babu Mwesigwa, a member of the committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD), said he had been told that members of the UK’s African Caribbean community were subject to “highly cohesive and illicit violence” when detained in mental health and other “custodial” institutions.

Mwesigwa, himself from Uganda, pointed to a report by the UN’s committee on the elimination of racial discrimination, which found last year that people in the UK of African Caribbean descent were over-represented in psychiatric institutions and were more likely to be subjected to restraint, seclusion and over-medication.

He asked when the UK government “plans to address the discriminatory and disproportionate use of the Mental Health Act against its people of African descent living in the UK”.

He added: “Or, put the other way, same question, does the state party plan to address the oppressive way that the Mental Health Act is used as a tool of state oppression against people from the UK’s African Caribbean communities?”

Jonas Ruskus, another CRPD member, said the committee had been told that the use of compulsory detention was “rising quickly” while the number of unexpected deaths in institution was also rising.

And he said there was also information about the “inappropriate use of psychiatric medication” in mental health institutions, and about the “illicit” use of Taser stun guns on patients by police officers in secure mental health settings.

Coomaravel Pyaneandee, a vice-chair of the committee, asked the UK government yesterday (Wednesday) to commit to “a complete ban on the use of taser guns in persons who are detained in psychiatric settings”.

He also raised the death of Sarah Reed, a black woman who killed herself while in Holloway prison last year.

Reed took her own life while awaiting medical reports about whether she was fit to plead to a charge of assaulting a nurse in a secure psychiatric unit. The reports had found she was unfit to plead by the time she died.

Pyaneandee said: “One doesn’t know why she was in jail in the first place, a woman with psychosocial disability, pending the determination as to whether she could take a plea or not, which constitutes also deprivation of liberty.

“This raises the whole question about multiple discrimination in the UK and whether existing legislation should not be brought in line with the convention, so that that kind of situation never repeats again.”

A civil servant from the Ministry of Justice told the committee that it would “not be suitable” to discuss the case of Sarah Reed.

The civil servant said that the prison and probation service “makes considerable efforts” to learn from every death in custody, while a prison’s fatal accident report will include an action plan to respond to any recommendations.

If a coroner writes a report raising concerns about the risk of future deaths, following a death in custody, the prison and probation system has a legal duty to respond.

A Department of Health civil servant told the committee that using restraint without legal authorisation could be a criminal offence.

He said that data was collected on restraint of people in contact with mental health, autism and learning disability inpatient services.

Since Jan 2016, he said, that data includes more information, including the type of restraint, whether “physical, chemical, mechanical, seclusion or segregation”.

He said guidance published in 2014 says that staff should develop a culture “where restrictive interventions are only ever used as a last resort for adults with behaviour challenges”.

He later said that the government was committed to reforming the Mental Health Act, and one of the motivations for this was to “examine the disproportionate number of people of certain ethnicities, in particular black people, who are detained under the act”.

A Home Office civil servant told the committee that the Independent Police Complaints Commission had “maintained a close interest” in the use of Tasers and that police forces were working on a new system of recording their use, while police and crime commissioners had been asked to provide a way to scrutinise Taser incidents in mental health settings.

24 August 2017

 

 

UK faces UN examination: Equality and rights bodies attack government failings

The UK’s equality and human rights bodies have attacked the government’s failure to protect disabled people’s rights.

The assault came during a public examination in Geneva of the UK’s record in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Colin Caughey, from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, speaking on behalf of the four UK equality and human rights bodies tasked with monitoring the UK’s performance – known as the UK Independent Mechanism (UKIM) – suggested that the government had failed to realise the rights of disabled people, eight years after the convention was ratified by a Labour government.

He told the UN’s committee on the rights of person with disabilities, which was conducting the public examination this week: “Almost a decade on we find ourselves in Geneva reporting on a UK in which social security reforms have led to a finding by this committee of evidence of grave and systemic violations of the right to an adequate standard of living, right to social protection, right to independent living and right to work.”

But he said the committee’s “clear and measured” recommendations – based on “overwhelming evidence” – had not yet received “meaningful consideration” from the government, which had instead introduced “further regressive measures”.

He also pointed out that there were continued “gaps” in the legal protection provided by the Equality Act 2010.

And he said autistic people and those with learning difficulties “continue to be excluded from their communities by being placed in psychiatric hospitals, inappropriately, for lengthy periods of time”.

He also said that disabled people in prisons, hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions “continue to be subject to physical, chemical and mechanical restraint”.

Andrea Murray, from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, told the committee yesterday (Wednesday) that changes to legal aid in England and Wales were obstructing disabled people’s access to justice in areas such as housing and social security.

She called for “swift action to safeguard disabled people’s access to justice”.

And she warned that Brexit posed a “significant risk” of regression in disability rights protections.

Before the public examination, the four UK equality and human rights bodies – the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Human Rights and the Scottish Human Rights Commission – warned that “years of cuts” had led to disabled people’s right to independent living being “continually eroded”.

They said that disabled people who need support to live independently in the community were “not getting help, or are only getting the bare minimum”.

The concerns are detailed in an updated report by the four bodies, which has been submitted to the committee.

David Isaac, EHRC’s chair, speaking on behalf of UKIM, said: “There is a real concern that disabled people are being increasingly marginalised and shut out of society as they bear the brunt of the accumulated impact of cuts in public spending.

“Disabled people have won hard fought battles in recent decades to ensure that they can live independently to exercise choice and control over their support.

“Evidence of regression must be confronted and urgently addressed.”

24 August 2017

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com