Global Disability Summit: Mordaunt retreats from UK’s ‘global leader on rights’ claims

The international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, has been forced to retreat from her government’s repeated claims that the UK is a “global leader in disability rights”.

Her government has faced anger from the UK disabled people’s movement at its decision to co-host a Global Disability Summit in east London less than a year after the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) found that its cuts to disabled people’s support had caused “a human catastrophe”.

The committee told the UK government last September – when Mordaunt herself was minister for disabled people – to make more than 80 improvements to how its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.

It was the highest number of recommendations CRPD had ever produced in reviewing a country’s progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The committee also made it clear to the government that the UK was no longer considered a world leader on disability rights.

But the government has repeatedly disagreed with the UN’s conclusion.

Last November, the new minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, said that the UK “continues to be a global leader in disability rights”.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said last October – in responding to CRPD’s findings – that the UK was “a recognised world leader in disability rights and equality”.

And last October, Mordaunt herself said the government wanted to “establish the UK as a global leader” in disability and development and that she was “keen to promote what we are doing [on the domestic agenda] because it is a catalyst for change elsewhere in the world”.

But in an interview with Disability News Service (DNS) this week at the summit – a major international disability rights conference focused on the global south – Mordaunt distanced herself from those claims.

When asked if it was hypocritical for her government to hold itself up as a world leader on disability rights while co-hosting the summit, she said: “I think you’re putting words into my mouth, we are not holding ourselves up saying that we’re perfect or we have all the answers and I’ve been very clear in all my communications about this summit that that is the case.

“But I tell you this, we are well placed to help other nations get where we all want to be.”

She added: “This is not about the UK either preaching to other nations or not including ourselves in the list of nations that need to do better.

“We do need to do better. I’ve got a big long list, you’ve got a big long list, the Office for Disability Issues has a big long list of things that it wants to get done.”

She said she wanted the UK to do better on welfare, accessibility, building regulations and disabled people as consumers, and she said: “There is a lot of room for improvement, but there is more to do, but us as a wealthy nation not supporting, encouraging and enabling others to make the progress as well, I think it would be a dereliction of our duty.”

When told that the disabled people’s organisation Inclusion Scotland had described the summit as a “blatant attempt [by the government] to divert attention from its own disastrous record on human rights and the damage its own policies have inflicted on UK disabled people”, Mordaunt said: “Well, if that were the case, holding a Global Disability Summit in the UK would be a pretty poor strategy. It’s not about that.”

This week, Mordaunt and her fellow ministers have been encouraging other countries and organisations to sign up to a new Charter for Change, calling on them to “hold ourselves and others to account for the promises we have made here today” and to “strive for real change through the convention’s implementation”.

But Mordaunt has now criticised the UN for its attempts to do just that.

In 2016, the UN’s CRPD told the UK government that it was guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights through its policies on independent living, social security and employment.

There has been anger and disbelief that the UK was asking other countries at the summit to sign up to a new charter that calls for governments to be held to account for their progress in implementing the convention, when it had not accepted the CRPD recommendations last September, or in 2016.

Last year, DWP said it was “disappointed” that the UN report “fails to recognise all the progress we’ve made to empower disabled people in all aspects of their lives”.

And the previous year, DWP said that it “strongly disagrees” with CRPD’s conclusions that it had caused “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights and that the CRPD report “presents an inaccurate picture of life for disabled people in the UK”.

Mordaunt insisted this week that the government had not dismissed last year’s report on the overall implementation of the convention in the UK, and that Newton was now “working through” the recommendations, with announcements expected nest month.

But when asked four times whether she accepted the 2016 “grave and systematic violations” report, Mordaunt declined to do so.

She eventually said that the government had “issues with some of the aspects of the UN process”.

She said: “We think that we have been in some instances unfairly dealt with, but we will continue to engage in that process and I am confident that you will see progress.”

Mordaunt made a series of announcements at the summit to demonstrate the government’s commitment to supporting disabled people in the developing world, funded through the UK’s continuing legally binding agreement to spend 0.7 per cent of national income a year on foreign aid (about £14 billion in 2017).

She committed the UK government to a new global partnership – AT Scale – to “transform access to and affordability of” assistive technology, such as wheelchairs, prosthetics, hearing aids and glasses, with the aim of reaching 500 million people globally by 2030.

She also announced a new UK Aid Connect programme, led by disability charities Sightsavers and Leonard Cheshire, which will work with organisations within small communities in the developing world to support disabled people into jobs.

There will be a six-year programme to design ways to help 100,000 disabled people to access health services, 10,000 disabled children to access education, and up to 45,000 disabled people to increase their incomes.

And Mordaunt said that her Department for International Development would work with businesses to support disabled people as employers, employees and consumers.

26 July 2018



Global Disability Summit: Anger over Mordaunt’s bid to redefine inclusive education

International development secretary Penny Mordaunt has been labelled a hypocrite and an embarrassment after attempting to redefine inclusive education at the international disability summit she was hosting in east London.

Penny Mordaunt’s government was already facing criticism from across the UK disabled people’s movement for its “blatant attempt to divert attention from its own disastrous record on human rights” by co-hosting the Global Disability Summit in east London.

But Mordaunt was then asked during the summit – a major international disability rights conference focused on the global south – what inclusive education meant to her, and she replied: “Inclusive education means that everyone has an education and it is done in a way to reach their full potential.”

The UN has made it clear that inclusive education means that all disabled children and young people are educated in mainstream settings and that the right for disabled students not to be discriminated against “includes the right not to be segregated” into special schools.

The UK government’s opposition to an inclusive education system dates back to the Conservative party’s 2010 election manifesto, in which it said its policy would be to “end the bias towards inclusion of disabled children in mainstream schools”.

Five years later, its general election manifesto boasted of how it had “created 2,200 more special schools places through our free schools programme”.

And last autumn, the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities was highly critical of the UK government’s approach to inclusive education, and the “persistence of a dual education system” that segregates increasing numbers of disabled children in special schools.

It called instead for a “coherent strategy” on “increasing and improving inclusive education”, to include raising awareness of – and support for – inclusive education among parents of disabled children.

The day before Mordaunt’s comments, Laura Kanushu, executive director of Legal Action for Persons with Disabilities Uganda, told the Civil Society Forum – a sister event held the day before the Global Disability Summit, in the same venue – of the “challenges of governments still investing so much in special needs schools”.

She said: “Why don’t you make the mainstream schools inclusive rather than investing in building special needs schools? For us that has been a challenge.”

The UK government’s refusal to support inclusive education – at least in its own country – was always likely to be exposed during the summit after the Department for International Development decided that one of its four main themes would be “inclusion in education”.

The prime minister, Theresa May, in a video played to the summit, even called for “truly inclusive” education as a way of helping disabled people “play a full role in their communities”, although she was apparently only referring to disabled young people living in developing countries.

And in her closing speech, Mordaunt announced a new Inclusive Education Initiative – led by the UK – a “multi-donor partnership to support developing countries realise the promise of truly inclusive schools, teaching and learning”.

Michelle Daley and Simone Aspis, interim director and policy and campaigns coordinator for The Alliance for Inclusive Education, said that Mordaunt’s comments were embarrassing and hypocritical.

Daley and Aspis said in a statement: “It is not just an embarrassment but also an hypocrisy for our government to tell the Global Disability Summit anything about inclusive education, especially when we are terribly failing many of our disabled children.”

They said it was “very concerning” that Mordaunt appeared to have redefined the definition of inclusive education in a way that did not comply with the UN’s definition.

They said: “The convention comes with an obligation to develop and implement an inclusive education system.

“However, our government continues to have a dual education system, refusing to make inclusive education a right, with an increase in the number of children being forced into segregated schools.

“It is time that our government starts to properly implement inclusive education as a human right.”

Richard Rieser, a leading inclusive education and international disability rights expert, who chaired a session at the summit, said the government was “clearly finding this an embarrassment”.

He said: “It is well-established under article 24 [of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities] that inclusion is education in the local school in your community.

“What the minister [Mordaunt] said leaves the door open to segregated special schools.”

He pointed out that the UK maintained a reservation against article 24 of the convention, reserving the right for disabled children to be educated outside their local community, and an “interpretive declaration”*, which explains that the UK believes that the convention allows it to continue to operate both mainstream and special schools.

Only two other countries – Suriname and Mauritius – have placed reservations against article 24.

Rieser said: “This is the problem and the fear about the Department for International Development leading this [event] when they don’t understand the things we are arguing for as a world disability movement.”

*Both the reservation and interpretive declaration were placed by the Labour government in 2009 when it ratified the convention and have been maintained by subsequent coalition and Conservative governments

26 July 2018



Figures finally show how government slashed spending on rail access scheme

New figures released through the Freedom of Information Act have exposed how the government has slashed spending on its rail station access improvement programme over the last five years.

The figures show spending on the Access for All scheme fell from as much as £81.1 million in 2013-14 to just £14.6 million last year.

The figures were released in a freedom of information response by Network Rail to Disability News Service just a day before the government published its new Inclusive Transport Strategy.

Further information in the strategy suggests that the cuts are set to continue this year and next year, apparently with funding of less than £40 million over those two years.

But the strategy also shows that Network Rail’s pleas for more funding for the Access for All programme appear to have been successful, with spending due to rise to up to £50 million a year over the following five years, as well as an additional £50 million in deferred funding.

The strategy repeatedly states that this total will be “up to £300 million”, suggesting that it could be lower.

DNS has previously revealed that tens of millions of pounds had been cut from funding for the Access for All programme for 2014-19, but this is the first time that the impact of those cuts on year-to-year spending on station access improvements has been revealed.

The freedom of information response shows that spending in 2009-10, the last year of the Labour government, was £53.9 million, falling to £41.2 million in 2010-11, then £50.7 million in 2011-12, £39.7 million in 2012-13, and £81.1 million in 2013-14.

But spending then plunged over the next four years – in the first five-year planning period to begin under the coalition – with just £22.9 million in 2014-15, £24.6 million in 2015-16, £32.1 million in 2016-17 and just £14.6 million last year.

Spending on a new mid-tier programme, which began in 2011-12, for projects costing between £250,000 and £1 million also plunged, from £18.8 million in 2013-14, to £7.1 million in 2014-15, and dropping to as low as £0.9 million in 2017-18.

Alan Benson, chair of Transport for All (TfA), the user-led organisation which campaigns for an accessible transport system in London, said: “TfA is on record as saying that it’s shameful that the Access for All programme was ram-raided to support cuts elsewhere in Network Rail.”

But he said the figures now made “abundantly clear” the “scale of the impact”.

He said the investment of £300 million “after so many years of cuts and deferments” was “very encouraging”.

But he added: “All over the country, projects are fully planned and eager to proceed.

“An early injection of capital could see these projects rapidly changing the travel experience for the better for many, not just disabled and older people.

“Ultimately the promise of jam tomorrow is just that, a promise. Transport for All wants to see tangible improvements as soon as possible.”

A Network Rail spokesman declined to say if his organisation believed that the cuts to Access for All funding had led to five or six years wasted years in which many other substantial access improvement projects could have been carried out at rail stations across the country.

But he said in a statement: “Network Rail welcomes the government’s announcement of £300 million additional funding for the Access for All programme.

“Network Rail is committed to making the network more accessible and looks forward to working with the Department for Transport, train operators and local communities to identify suitable schemes.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) refused to defend the critical drop in spending on Access for All from 2014-15 or to confirm that spending would be less than £40 million in total this year and next.

Instead, a DfT spokesman said: “We remain committed to improving accessibility across all modes of transport, and have today announced £300 million of funding to further extend the Access for All programme.

“This is part of our work towards achieving a genuinely inclusive transport network, which meets the needs of all people, regardless of whether they are disabled or not.”

Network Rail has previously said that not all access improvements come through the Access for All programme, as some are funded through large mainstream schemes, such as the redevelopment of London Bridge station and the building of new Crossrail stations.

Apart from the increased funding for Access for All, the government’s new strategy offers almost no new money to improve accessible transport.

There will be £2 million for a new “public awareness campaign” to “promote ways of positively interacting with disabled people” on public transport and reduce disability hate crime; £2 million for new Changing Places toilets at motorway service areas in England; and £2 million to speed up the rollout of new audio-visual equipment on buses.

The strategy also includes pledges on improved “disability awareness” training for staff; improved data on inclusivity; and a warning for public transport operators that they face potential legal action if they fail to fulfil their obligations under the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty.

It also calls on local authorities to halt all Shared Space street developments that are still at the design stage while the government reviews and updates guidance, and it says DfT will temporarily withdraw its current guidance on shared space.

The strategy says the government’s “aspiration” is that by 2030 “all major transport hubs and terminals on both public and private transport networks will meet the needs of disabled people, including toilet and changing facilities, straightforward signage, audio and visual messaging and space to navigate”.

But the strategy also makes clear that many potentially controversial or difficult decisions – including whether to impose mandatory insurance on users of mobility scooters, whether to expand the blue badge scheme, what action to take to ensure priority use for the wheelchair spaces in buses for wheelchair-users, whether to tighten laws on local authorities and wheelchair-accessible taxis, and how to ensure better levels of staffing on the railways – have yet to be taken or have been quietly ignored.

Benson said Transport for All welcomed the “very challenging goals” set out in the new strategy, which he said were “much needed”.

He added: “We look forward to seeing the details on how they are planning to make transport in this country fully accessible by 2030 and seeing details of the investments that will back it.

“We also hope that the Inclusive Transport Strategy will meet our demands for a transport system that everyone can use.

“Whilst this strategy represents a significant step in the right direction, the intentions are only as good as the changes that result, so we look forward to seeing the milestones and targets by which these words will be judged.”

26 July 2018



Global Disability Summit: Disability Rights UK ‘betrayed movement’ with speech

A national disabled people’s organisation is facing accusations that it “betrayed” the UK disability movement after its deputy chief executive failed to condemn the government’s record on rights at a major international gathering of disabled people.

Sue Bott was sharing the stage with a senior government civil servant less than a year after the chair of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) said the UK government’s cuts to disabled people’s support had caused “a human catastrophe”.

They were appearing at the Civil Society Forum, an event headed by the International Disability Alliance and intended to “amplify” the voice of disabled people the day before the UK government’s sister event, the Global Disability Forum, was held in the same venue on the Olympic Park in east London.

Bott was asked on Monday by the UN’s special rapporteur on the rights of disabled people, Catalina Aguilar, what she would like to ask the UK government to do.

But in front of an audience containing disabled people from organisations across the global south and the UK, Bott failed to criticise the UK government.

Instead, she laughed, and said DR UK wanted to “collaborate” and “learn from disabled people around the world”.

Hours earlier, Simone Aspis, from The Alliance for Inclusive Education, had won loud applause and even one or two cheers from the international audience after delivering a devastating attack on the government’s record on disability rights and its “hypocrisy” in holding the summit (see separate story).

CRPD told the UK government last September to make more than 80 improvements to how its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights, the highest number of recommendations it had ever produced in reviewing a country’s progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Aspis had told the forum, which was organised by the UK government, the International Disability Alliance and the government of Kenya: “Today the UK government is asking other countries to sign up to a charter which talks about the importance of holding governments to account under the [UN convention] and yet our government stands in breach of it. Hypocrisy.”

And she said that UK disabled people’s organisations “absolutely welcome the giving of aid and support to our disabled brothers and sisters in other countries but we must also not let the UK government get away with its deliberate dismissal of its obligations under the [UN convention], because if one government should get away with it then others can follow.”

But instead of supporting Aspis by telling disabled delegates from across the world about the UK government’s serious breaches of the UN convention, Bott said: “We do want to work with government.

“As you heard this morning, we have some challenges in the UK but I believe that it’s essential that we keep that dialogue going with government and that we try to influence.”

She then said that DR UK’s request of the UK government was to “listen to us, talk to us, work with us and together if we work together we can create a society that is much better and inclusive for disabled people.

“It is a difficult process and sometimes unfortunately we end up going backwards sometimes but we need to engage and we need to find ways of going forwards and continuously improving our society for the benefit of disabled people.”

DR UK* has been repeatedly criticised for being too close to the government, but it appeared to have reclaimed some credibility with the disabled people’s movement through its part in a delegation of UK DPOs that visited Geneva last year, where its chief executive Kamran Mallick helped brief CRPD members on the UK’s breaches.

Last week, DR UK published a statement on its website criticising the government’s progress on disability rights, which it said had not just stalled but “reversed”, and adding: “We hope the summit will strengthen the ability of civic society in all the participating countries to hold their governments to account against the pledges they make.”

But when Bott took to the stage, sitting two seats down from Gerard Howe, head of inclusive societies in the policy division of the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), she failed to repeat that criticism.

The next day, Mallick spoke at the summit and also failed to criticise the government, noting only that he wanted the government to “see the UNCRPD report from 2017 as an opportunity to work through the issues raised and for the UK to reclaim its reputation as one of the leaders in disability equality”.

Eleanor Lisney, a leading disabled activist and member of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance network of disabled people and their organisations, said she was “astounded” by Bott’s speech.

She said: “Given that it was such a strong examination by the CRPD she didn’t mention it at all.

“It is not something that is hearsay. This is the UN.”

She said that one of the UN’s key conclusions last year was that one of the strongest elements in the UK was its disabled activists and disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).

Lisney said: “She didn’t mention that, she didn’t give credit to DPOs in her own country, she said she wants to learn from the countries the UK government is giving help to.

“She’s not there for DR UK, she’s there for DPOs in the UK.

“It’s a betrayal, that’s what I call it.”

There was also strong criticism on social media, with DPAC activist Rick Burgess saying on Twitter: “It is not acceptable for her to make no comment on UN report and to want to work with ongoing human rights abusers. Disgusting.”

Richard Rieser, who was at the forum and heard Bott’s speech, said it was “too weak” and that she had failed to challenge the UK government from the stage.

Rieser, a leading disabled consultant, who has played a key role in representing UK disabled people on international bodies such as the European Disability Forum and at the UN, said it had been “very difficult” to persuade DfID to let anyone from the UK disabled people’s movement to speak at the event.

And he praised Aspis for her speech, which had challenged the government.

He added: “People who were speaking were not just speaking for themselves and their own organisations but the whole UK disability movement and [DR UK] could have done more justice to the case against the British government domestically.”

He said Mallick had failed to explain to delegates what concerns the UN had raised “or in any way embarrass the government”.

Rieser said: “We have to be slightly stronger than that if we want to move them.

“We should really have held them to account more at this event. When you have the chance, you have to.”

Mallick and Bott refused to respond to requests from Disability News Service (DNS) to explain their failure to be more critical of the government from the stage.

Mallick said only in a statement: “Sue and I were asked to contribute to specific topics and questions, these were the basis of what we said.

“The panel that I was on was cut short significantly, due to the previous speech by the president of Ecuador running over time.”

He also referred DNS to a blog he wrote in advance of the summit, which was mildly critical of the government, a link to his speech to the summit, and to last week’s statement.

*DR UK is a Disability News Service subscriber

26 July 2018



Global Disability Summit: DPAC’s protest festival highlights government hypocrisy

Disabled activists have held a “festival of resistance” outside an international disability rights event to highlight the “hypocrisy” of it being co-hosted by the UK government.

Members of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and allies were outside the Here East centre on the Olympic Park in the east London borough of Newham, as hundreds of delegates from across the UK and the global south took part in the Global Disability Summit.

Among those speaking at DPAC’s protest were disabled activists from Greece, Bolivia and Uganda, and an anti-poverty activist from Canada, who had all spoken at DPAC’s own International Deaf and Disabled People’s Solidarity Summit in nearby Stratford two days earlier.

Paula Peters, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “It is important to be outside the Global Disability Summit to show the true nature of what the UK government are doing to disabled people with their austerity agenda.”

She pointed to the two reports from the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD), in 2016 and 2017, which had exposed the impact of the cuts on disabled people.

The first of the reports, in November 2016, found the government had committed “grave and systematic violations” of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities through its policies on independent living, social security and employment.

The second, last autumn, assessed the government’s overall record on implementing the convention, produced an unprecedented number of recommendations for improvements, and led the committee’s chair to tell the UK government that its cuts to disabled people’s support had caused “a human catastrophe”.

Ellen Clifford, who helped organise DPAC’s International Deaf and Disabled People’s Solidarity Summit, which took place two days before the government’s summit (see separate stories), had said that holding the Global Disability Summit so soon after the UN report was like the UK government “sticking two fingers up to the UN”.

But she said she welcomed anything positive that came out of the summit and was “particularly in favour of deaf and disabled people and our organisations making direct links internationally to support each other in our shared struggles.”

She said this could only be done “from the grassroots up”, which was why DPAC had hosted its own summit.

Clifford said that the Department for International Development, which had co-hosted the summit, had said DPAC activists could come inside the summit but would only be allowed in “if you don’t mention the UK government”.

DPAC rejected the invitation, and instead, the International Disability Alliance (IDA), an alliance of disabled people’s organisations which co-hosted the summit, supported DPAC in ensuring that its leaflets were distributed inside the summit.

The leaflets told delegates that the UK government had shown “contempt” for disabled people and the UN convention, had driven its “disabled citizens into degrading and inhumane conditions” and that it appeared to be “attempting to use this event to whitewash its appalling record on disability at home”.

Peters said the UK government was not talking about the two UN reports in its summit, and added: “The sun never sets on their hypocrisy. They are abusing our human rights at home.

“They are in there celebrating disabled people and how fantastic disabled are but their policies are harming disabled people, pushing us further into poverty, further marginalising us and excluding us from society.

“The cuts are killing us. We had to be here to show that, to show the truth.”

Marsha de Cordova, the disabled shadow minister for disabled people, also attended the DPAC protest, along with her Labour colleague Kate Osamor, the shadow international development secretary.

De Cordova pointed out that the Global Disability Summit was being hosted by Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, who had been minister for disabled people when CRPD produced its two reports in 2016 and 2017.

She said she was at the DPAC protest because ministers were “portraying themselves as being global leaders on disability rights”.

She said: “We know that is not the case. Their policies have been condemned by the UN.”

She said the government’s policies over the last eight years had “disproportionately hit disabled people, particularly on social security”.

De Cordova also pointed to the Charter for Change, the summit’s “principal legacy document”, which the UK was asking other governments and organisations to sign up to.

She said the UK was violating eight of the charter’s 10 commitments, including the pledge to “gather and use better data and evidence to understand and address the scale, and nature, of challenges faced by persons with disabilities”.

The UK government has persistently refused to carry out a cumulative impact assessment of its social security and tax cuts and reforms since 2010, even though the Equality and Human Rights Commission published its own version in March.

The disabled Kenyan MP Isaac Mwaura also expressed his solidarity with the DPAC protest.

He told them: “If there are any cuts to social welfare, how come they start with the most vulnerable, people with disabilities?”

Mwaura, a former student at the University of Leeds, said that disability was about “rights, respect and dignity”.

He said: “I tell you in solidarity, demand for your rights, let the UK government also implement the recommendations of the UN report for the CRPD.

“That way, the UK government will be providing leadership, the way it is purporting to do together with my government on the conditions of people with disability.

“Disability is about rights, it is about respect, it is about dignity, we will stand in solidarity with you, we refuse to accept the north and south divide, where some countries are seen to be better than others, yet the problems of disabled people are universal and common to all of us.

“We have to stand up and demand our rights: nothing about us without us.”

Dr Ju Gosling, artistic director of Together! 2012, a social enterprise led by Newham-based disabled artists, was one of several disabled artists who performed at the protest.

She said that Newham was the main London 2012 host borough and has one of the highest proportions of disabled residents in the UK, but that the promised “legacy” benefits of London 2012 to disabled people in Newham had yet to appear.

Instead, she said, “we have the highest percentage of homeless residents in the country, the vast majority of whom have an impairment or a long-term health condition, and the lowest level of cultural engagement.

“There is no funded disabled people’s organisation or centre for independent living; in fact, there is almost no advice and support available of any kind.”

Gosling pointed out that the Global Disability Summit organisers did not appear to have invited any local organisation of disabled people to the summit, including Together! 2012.

And she said there had also been no attempt to facilitate meetings between disabled people from the global south visiting the summit and Together! 2012.

She said: “In Newham, we have disabled people from all over the world and they would love to have had a discussion and could have really enriched the understanding of the visitors about what it is like to be disabled in the UK.

“Presumably that’s why we were not invited.”

Representatives of IDA attended the DPAC protest and said they were there “in solidarity”.

An IDA representative said: “IDA agreed to co-host because we wanted DPOs, including UK DPOs, to be a central part of the summit.

“And we have achieved this. DPOs from across the global, and including UK DPOs, have been key to the success of this summit.”

But she added: “We cannot ignore the findings of the CRPD committee.”

She said IDA was hoping to set up a meeting between DPOs including DPAC, the Department for Work and Pensions and Mordaunt’s Department for International Development.

26 July 2018



Global Disability Summit: DPOs from global south call for new beginning

Disabled people and their organisations from the global south have called for a “new beginning” in the way that the UN disability convention is implemented and monitored.

They were speaking at the Global Disability Summit, a major international disability rights conference co-hosted by the UK government in east London this week.

Speaking at the Civil Society Forum, an event held alongside the summit to “amplify the voice and participation” of disabled people, Dr Samuel Kabue, chair of the Kenya Disability Caucus, said that ratification by countries of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) by governments was not enough in itself.

Kabue, a member of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD), said that the participation of disabled people’s organisations was “crucial” in the implementation of the convention.

He said: “‘This summit is telling us that we need to have a new beginning where persons with disabilities are given the opportunity, the right and the capacity to work with the government in many places.”

Laura Kanushu, executive director of Legal Action for Persons with Disabilities Uganda, told the forum that taking “strategic” legal cases was “a big strategy” in creating awareness of the convention.

She said: “In implementing [UNCRPD] effectively we need [legal] precedents on different issues in our different countries.”

Another CRPD member, Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame, from Ghana, said disabled people and their organisations “have a great contribution to give” if there is to be “full meaning” of the implementation of UNCRPD because of their “authentic experience and relevant information of the situation of persons with disabilities”.

She said disabled people and their organisations were not consulted when decisions were made on their behalf.

She said: “We have to demand accountability at all levels and ensure and demand that persons with disabilities and their organisations are actively involved in the development and implementation of legislation and policies.”

Ana Lucia Arellano, chair of the International Disability Alliance, which co-hosted the summit, said the event was “an opportunity for meaningful change”.

She said there was an “urgent” need to “move from principals to procedures, from words to action”.

More than 600 representatives of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), charities, governments and private sector organisations who attended the forum agreed a “collaborative” statement, which calls for “measurable, ambitious and lasting commitments” to implementing UNCRPD and the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The statement, which was presented the next day to the Global Disability Summit by Arellano, says: “It is time to implement the [UNCRPD] in every corner of the world: in every city, in every train station, in every village, in every mountain and valley, in every refugee camp and in every school.”

Among its calls is for increased investment in DPOs and support for the disability rights movement “to grow from the grassroots” and for the introduction of “CRPD compliant policies and legislation” and an increase in the “meaningful consultation and involvement” of disabled people and their organisations.

The forum and summit also saw concerns about a new 10-point Charter for Change, which laid out 10 commitments to achieve full inclusion for disabled people, with the UK government apparently its driving force.

The charter includes pledges on inclusive education (see separate story), to promote the leadership of disabled people, to eliminate discrimination, and to “revolutionise the availability and affordability of appropriate assistive technology”.

By the end of the summit, more than 300 governments, disability organisations, international agencies and private sector companies had signed up to it.

But Simone Aspis, from The Alliance for Inclusive Education, told the Civil Society Forum: “We must all make sure that the charter we introduce at the summit does not become a substitute for proper implementation of the [UNCRPD] and a way to water down our rights and ability to hold our governments to account.”

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said the UK was itself violating eight of the 10 commitments in the charter (see separate story).

And Sally Witcher, chief executive of Inclusion Scotland, said: “Rather than urging others to sign a Charter for Change, they might like to consider implementing UNCRPD and accept the verdict of the UN committee on their woeful performance.

“The UK government should stop lecturing to the world and start sorting out its own backyard. Its credibility on disabled people’s human rights is non-existent.”

The European Disability Forum (EDF) endorsed the charter but also warned that it could not be a “substitute” for the UN convention.

Nadia Hadad, an EDF board member, said: “We hope the outcomes of the Global Disability Summit will also provide a strong push at the national level towards full implementation of the [UNCRPD].

“This push is needed everywhere: not only in low and middle-income countries, but also in OECD countries.”

EDF pointed out that the UK government was heavily criticised last autumn by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities for “failing to uphold the rights of persons with disabilities, including through a string of austerity policies which disproportionately affected persons with disabilities”.

The UK government reported a string of pledges from other governments, international agencies and other organisations by the end of the Global Disability Summit.

It said that nine national governments had promised to pass or draw up new or revised laws to give disabled people greater rights; 18 governments and other organisations said they were producing new action plans on disability inclusion; and 33 governments and other organisations had pledged to support more disabled people affected by humanitarian crises.

Seven UN agencies that attended the summit committed to change the way they include disabled people in their work, including UNICEF, which pledged to help an extra 30 million disabled children gain a high-quality education by 2030 through programmes in more than 140 countries.

It was not clear, though, how many of the commitments and promises were simply policies that governments and organisations had already been planning and would have been introduced without the Global Disability Summit.

26 July 2018



Global Disability Summit: Disabled activist praised for highlighting government attacks

A leading disabled activist has exposed the UK’s record on disability rights in front of an audience of disabled people from across the global south who had been invited to take part in the government’s Global Disability Summit.

Simone Aspis drew repeated loud applause from the audience at the Civil Society Forum as she highlighted the attacks on disabled people’s rights by the “arrogant” UK government.

She underlined the “hypocrisy” of the UK asking other countries to sign up to a new Charter for Change, which calls for governments to be held to account for their progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

She said: “Today the UK government is asking other countries to sign up to a charter which talks about the importance of holding governments to account under the CRPD and yet our government stands in breach of it. Hypocrisy.”

Last autumn, the chair of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities said the government’s cuts to disabled people’s support had caused “a human catastrophe”.

Aspis, policy and campaigns coordinator for The Alliance for Inclusive Education, a member of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, said the committee had made more than 80 recommendations for improvements and that it had never been as concerned about a country as it was about the UK.

She also highlighted how the same committee had found the UK government guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of the convention in 2016 because its austerity cuts had been “fundamentally breaching disabled people’s human rights to independent living and a decent standard of living and work”.

But she said the government had dismissed the findings of both CRPD reports.

Aspis was speaking at the Civil Society Forum, a sister event to the Global Disability Summit, headed by the International Disability Alliance and intended to “amplify” the voice of disabled people from across the global south the day before the summit was held in the same venue on the Olympic Park.

Aspis told the forum that UK disabled people’s organisations “absolutely welcome the giving of aid and support to our disabled brothers and sisters in other countries but we must also not let the UK government get away with its deliberate dismissal of its obligations under the [UN convention], because if one government should get away with it then others can follow.”

She said ROFA was calling for the government to implement CRPD’s recommendations, including the need for a cumulative assessment of the impact of its welfare and tax reforms; to reverse its welfare reforms; to introduce a national independent living support service; to reverse the reinstitutionalisation of disabled people; and to fully implement disabled people’s right to inclusive education.

26 July 2018



Global Disability Summit: McDonnell says government hosting summit is ‘height of hypocrisy’

Labour’s shadow chancellor has described the UK government’s decision to co-host a Global Disability Summit – less than a year after its record on disability rights was dismantled by the United Nations – as “the height of hypocrisy”.

John McDonnell, a long-standing supporter of the disabled people’s anti-cuts movement, was speaking to Disability News Service (DNS) after addressing a rival grassroots summit organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) in Stratford, east London.

He said the government’s summit was an attempt to show that they were world leaders in disability rights “when they are clearly not”, but also “trying to argue that they could somehow influence or teach other countries how to treat fairly and equally disabled people”, which was “just outrageous.”

McDonnell said disabled people and their allies had worked hard to ensure that the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities had “the fullest information to be able to assess the government’s performance on its policies towards disabled people”.

The result, last September, was “an outright condemnation of the role that the government has played”.

He added: “It was the height of hypocrisy then for them to host this event.”

He said the summit could have been so much more successful if there had been an “honest discussion about what’s happened to disabled people across the globe but also learning the lessons of what’s gone wrong in this country, and the lessons of what’s gone wrong are that disabled people have born the brunt of austerity”.

He added: “If what came out of this summit was the admission by the UK government of their mistakes, at least something would come out of it. I doubt that that would happen.”

He also said – as he has stressed previously – that he wants DPAC and other disabled people’s groups “to set the agenda for Labour when we go into power”.

He told DPAC’s International Deaf and Disabled People’s Solidarity Summit that a Labour government’s policies would be based on the motto of the disabled people’s movement: “nothing about us without us”.

He said: “This is not just an open door. It is a solid invitation: when we go into government, you all go into government.”

The DPAC summit had heard from representatives of disabled people’s organisations in four countries – Bolivia, Greece, Malaysia and Uganda – each of whom described how they had fought oppression and discrimination (see separate story).

26 July 2018



Global Disability Summit: Disabled president’s rousing defence of social model

The disabled president of Ecuador has given a stirring speech in praise of the social model of disability, at a summit co-hosted in east London by the UK government.

President Lenin Moreno was one of the key-note speakers at the conference on the Olympic Park, which was hosted by the UK government, the International Disability Alliance and the Kenyan government.

Although he was described as the world’s only head of state with a disability – which is highly unlikely – Moreno is thought to be the only one who uses a wheelchair.

The former UN special envoy told the Global Disability Summit in east London that he saw disability as “obstacles created by the environment” and coming from “structures and social conditioning”, and said it was “essential to place disability within the discourse of rights”.

Moreno became disabled after being shot in a robbery in 1998 and was elected president of Ecuador last year.

He told the summit how, after he became vice-president of Ecuador in 2007, he led on a sweeping series of policies – Ecuador Without Barriers – that aimed to transform life for disabled people in Ecuador.

This included the Solidarity Mission Manuela Espejo, an 18-month project to identify every disabled person in Ecuador – they found nearly 300,000 people with significant impairments and high support needs – and assess their needs.

They went, he said, “to the fullest reaches of the forest, the highest points of the mountains and the furthest points of the islands of Ecuador” to carry out the survey.

The government reportedly increased the country’s spending on disability from about $100,000 a year to $65 million (another report described the increase as $2 million to $150 million) and reserved four per cent of jobs with significant employers for disabled people.

There were programmes to provide healthcare, assistive technology such as wheelchairs, canes, prosthetic limbs and hearings aids, and funding for local authorities to improve access to public buildings.

He spoke when he was vice-president of how on his visits around the country he had seen disabled people being hidden from view by their families in chicken coops and sheds.

He told the summit this week that disabled people had “been waiting for too long and they should not keep waiting, suffering abandonment, mistreatment and being hidden” and that Ecuador had needed a “cultural change” in the way it treated disabled people.

Moreno left government in 2013 at the end of his term as vice-president and was appointed as the special envoy on disability and accessibility by the UN’s secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, with the UN describing him then as “a globally acclaimed advocate for persons with disabilities and inclusive society”.

He told the summit that he had tried as the special envoy “to be a voice for millions of persons with disabilities” and to persuade every country to ratify – and then implement – the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

When he returned to government last year, he said, he found that much of his previous work on disability as vice-president “had been forgotten” and “all the things we had been fighting for and had built had been dismantled, forgotten or changed”.

This meant he had had to start again “nearly from scratch” after he was elected president.

Some opponents in Ecuador have accused him of turning his back on his socialist roots since his election.

In April, the Financial Times reported how Moreno had “announced a package of economic measures that aims to pare back the country’s bloated state apparatus and promote private enterprise, in a further departure from his socialist roots” and that he had “promised significant cuts to central government”.

A small group of protesters were outside the summit in east London to protest at his appearance at the summit.

One of the protesters, Mayra Crean, said Moreno had changed his policies since his election and was now applying a “neoliberal agenda”, cutting taxes for the rich and cutting spending.

She said: “He is cutting the budget for everybody – health, education, social care.”

And she said it was “an embarrassment” and “ironic” that he was appearing at the summit as a representative of disabled people.

The right to employment for disabled people is still central, Moreno told the summit, as most disabled people in his country live in poverty, do not have their own homes and do not work.

He said: “Our objective now is all persons with disabilities who can and want to work should be able to do it. They have the right to work.”

He added: “Our objective is to become a society promoting full inclusion of persons with disabilities, where they can train, study, work, enjoy life, have fun.”

But he also pledged his commitment to working with disabled people on policies affecting them, telling the summit: “The historic model of those who drafted the [UN] convention, ‘nothing about us without us’, is at the heart of the principles of my government.”

And he reaffirmed his commitment to the social model of disability, telling the summit that his government’s objective was a “human rights-based policy and not medical based”.

26 July 2018



Global Disability Summit: Mordaunt defends co-host Kenya despite its gay rights record

International development secretary Penny Mordaunt has defended the decision to co-host a major international summit on disability rights with Kenya, a country where it is illegal to be gay.

The UK government was co-hosting the Global Disability Summit in east London this week with Kenya and the International Disability Alliance, with Ukur Yatani Kanacho, the Kenyan government’s cabinet secretary for labour and social protection addressing the event.

Although the intersectional discrimination facing disabled women and girls and the barriers faced by disabled young people were both covered extensively by the summit, the double discrimination faced by disabled lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people appears to have been almost completely ignored during the summit.

Regard, a national organisation of disabled lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender and queer people (LGBTQ), said it was “hard to imagine a less suitable partner” to co-host the summit than Kenya, apart from its neighbour, Uganda.

In a statement, Regard said: “LGBTQI+ people in Kenya are routinely banished from their families, denied work and accommodation, imprisoned and persecuted.”

The barriers they face to forming and maintaining relationships “results in widespread damage to their mental and physical health, creating impairments where none previously existed.”

Regard said this was reflected in the high level of asylum applications from LGBTQI+ asylum-seekers from African countries, and added: “Despite their experiences, the majority are then refused asylum in the UK and forcibly returned home, where many disappear or are murdered.

“The involvement of the government of Kenya discredits any debate that takes place at the summit.

“Whatever the political reasons for involving Kenya in co-hosting the summit, the rights and welfare of disabled people seem to have had very little to do with it.”

In April, Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta said in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that LGBT rights were “not important” to him.

He said: “I won’t engage in a subject that is of no importance to the people of Kenya.

“This is not an issue of human rights, this is an issue of our own base as a culture, as a people regardless of which community you come from.”

Disabled People Against Cuts has supported Regard’s concerns, and included them in an open letter to some of the most high-profile participants in the summit.

But when asked by Disability News Service how the UK government justified asking Kenya to co-host the summit, Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, defended the move.

She said: “We work with many organisations that don’t have the same values as we do. In part, that’s why we work with them.”

She said the UK government chose Kenya as a co-host because of its legislative record on disability; its early signing of the UN disability convention; and “thirdly and perhaps most importantly they are one of the best nations for their relationship and strength of civil society disabled people’s organisations”.

When asked whether the UK government also recognised Kenya’s appalling record on LGBT rights, she said: “We don’t work with perfect nations. That’s why we work with them.”

26 July 2018



Global Disability Summit: Rival summit hears of international fight against oppression

Representatives of national disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) in Bolivia, Greece, Malaysia and Uganda have described to UK activists how they have fought oppression and discrimination in their own countries.

They were speaking at an International Deaf and Disabled People’s Solidarity Summit in east London, organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) to highlight the hypocrisy of the UK government’s decision to co-host a major “global disability summit” on the Olympic Park in east London this week.

Feliza Ali Ramos and Alex Marcelo Vazquez Bracamonte, both wheelchair-users, from the Bolivian DPO New Hope, described how – two years ago – they and fellow disabled activists marched 300 miles through the Andes to the capital La Paz to confront president Evo Morales about the conditions facing disabled people in Bolivia and to seek an increase in disability benefits.

Conditions facing disabled people in Bolivia were harsh, they told the summit.

Many were dying from treatable conditions, some because doctors refused to give them oxygen, with families often welcoming their early deaths “because they were suffering anyway”.

Many disabled people were excluded from education, despite the government’s insistence that disabled people had access to education and to healthcare, the summit heard.

Local campaigns had called for the monthly disability benefit payment to rise from about £10 to about £50 a month, which led to the march on La Paz.

Ramos said: “We sent letter after letter to the president, but the president never received us.”

They marched through the mountains for 35 days and often had nowhere to sleep, while their only food was what they were given by people from the towns they passed through.

When they arrived in the capital, they found the government had put up metal barriers to prevent them reaching the central square where the government offices were located.

The square was guarded by police with water cannons and riot shields, and they were sprayed with pepper spray and water cannons, beaten and pushed out of their wheelchairs.

Refused a meeting with the president, they pitched tents and took part in a vigil that lasted more than three months.

The government tried to infiltrate the movement, and threatened activists with 10 years in prison.

Morales eventually backed down and agreed to some of their demands.

Ramos told fellow activists at Sunday’s summit how they lost two of their colleagues in a traffic accident during the march while another four had died because their health deteriorated during the protest.

She cried as she told the summit: “Because these comrades had given their lives we fought on and we too were prepared to give our lives.

“We remember what we went through and every day it moves me.

“All of a sudden we have made ourselves visible in Bolivia and have got coverage in its media.”

Last week, she said, there was national media coverage of a case in which a young man with cerebral palsy was found severely malnourished.

She said: “Before, it would have been ignored. Now it is a national scandal because of what we did.

“We have shown the whole of society we are strong and are not prepared to shut up and do whatever the government tells us to do.”

New Hope was founded in 1999 to fight for an independent life for all disabled people in Bolivia, and its members try to empower disabled people with physical impairments through their Independent Life programme.

Antonios Rellas, from the Greek DPO Zero Tolerance, told Sunday’s summit how he was the only disabled activist who gave evidence in the long-running trial of MPs and members of the extreme-right Golden Dawn party.

He said: “As disabled activists, we know very well the story behind the fascist danger.

“Golden Dawn followed exactly what Hitler and the Third Reich believed. Some of the first victims of the Third Reich were disabled people who were killed, 275,00 of them, as unworthy to live.”

He also described his organisation’s ongoing fight against the institutionalisation of disabled people in Greece, which saw Zero Tolerance fight for the freedom of disabled residents who were being over-medicated and chained to cages in a state-run institution in Lechaina.

He has directed a documentary which exposes the conditions, with Rellas and other disabled activists occupying the institution for four days and demanding that they were released.

Now those disabled people who have been released from Lechaina have been found homes “in places where they can lead regular lives”, he said.

But he said that more than 900 disabled people were still living in similar conditions in state-run institutions in Greece.

He said: “The institutions that we are talking about are public institutions. We don’t know what is happening in private and church facilities.

“This has nothing to do with the financial crisis that Greece is under. This was happening before this happened and if we are not there to resist and provoke it will stay like this forever.”

Naziaty Yaacob, from Harapan OKU (Hope for Persons with Disabilities), speaking via Skype, told of her organisation’s battle to fight systematic discrimination against disabled people in her country following the election in May of the first new government in Malaysia in 60 years.

They wrote an open letter to the new prime minister, with support from more than 100 charities, telling him that disabled people were “still struggling to achieve independence” and were “still facing barriers and discrimination”, with disabled people the most marginalised group in society.

They highlighted the “toothless” nature of the existing disability discrimination act and the need for a new act and an independent commission to deal with grievances and systemic discrimination.

Rose Achayo, from the National Union of Women with Disabilities of Uganda, described the wide-ranging discrimination faced by disabled women and girls in her country.

She told the summit that her organisation had formed in 1999 to be a voice for disabled women and girls and to push for “a society where girls and women with disabilities lead a dignified life”.

She pointed to barriers faced by disabled women in Uganda, such as violence in the home and in the community, the abuse inflicted on disabled people with high support needs who are placed in isolated settings, the lack of access to reproductive health, and the lack of access to justice.

She also pointed to the stigma and “invisibility” faced by disabled women and girls in mainstream society, and their lack of access to the main source of income: land.

But she said that, unlike the UK government, the Ugandan government had acknowledged issues raised by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities and had come up with a plan for how they could be addressed.

The committee examined Uganda’s progress in 2016, a process her organisation took part in.

26 July 2018


News provided by John Pring at