The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights launched an inquiry into the right to independent living for disabled people in February 2011. The Committee sought to examine various aspects of the right to independent living within the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD, or “the Disabilities Convention”). The UNCRPD is the newest treaty in the UN human rights framework, and was ratified by the UK in 2009.
This inquiry was conducted during a period of fundamental reform to many of the arrangements which underpin independent living in the UK, and in the context of significant reductions in public spending. Important developments in the area of independent living include the rolling out of the previous Government’s replacement of Incapacity Benefit with Employment and Support Allowance and the introduction of a Work Capability Assessment, and the current Government’s Welfare Reform Bill, which introduces Universal Credit, replaces Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payments and makes changes to the housing benefit system. Other developments include the closure of the Independent Living Fund, changes to the provision of adult social care, and various reforms in the name of the “Big Society” and “localism”. These changes will all affect disabled people and may, both individually and cumulatively, have a significant impact on the ability of disabled people to enjoy independent living as protected by the Disabilities Convention generally and by Article 19 in particular.
By holding this inquiry the Committee sought to build on the work of its’ predecessor Committee in this respect. That Committee examined the Disabilities Convention during its inquiry into the human rights of adults with learning disabilities, and recommended that the UK ratify the Convention. It also scrutinised the Convention itself, prior to its ratification, and subjected the Government’s proposed reservations and interpretative declarations to rigorous parliamentary scrutiny. The UN Convention requires the Government to take steps to ensure that reforms and spending decisions are consistent with its obligations. This inquiry sought to examine the degree to which such steps have been taken and identify the potential implications of the reforms for disabled people’s right to live independently and to be included in the community. In addition to informing domestic developments, the report is also intended to make a parliamentary contribution to the forthcoming scrutiny of the UK’s performance by the UN Disabilities Committee.