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UK government has made ‘no progress’ towards improving lives of disabled people, charity says

The UK government failed to provide any ‘new evidence’ that it is improving the lives of disabled people at a United Nations hearing this week, according to Disability Rights UK.

Representatives from the UK government faced the UN’s disability committee in Geneva on Monday (18th March), after they refused to attend the last evidence session in August 2023.

The meeting was called to look at the progress the UK government has made to improve the lives of disabled people. This follows on from an inquiry in 2016 which found there were “grave and systemic” violations of disabled people’s rights to social security, independent living and to work.

UK policy ‘devalues’ lives of disabled people

Government representatives from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland first gave evidence on the progress the UK has made since the 2016 inquiry.

Speaking at the hearing, Alexandra Gowlland, the Deputy Director of the Disability Unit (part of the Equality Hub in the Cabinet Office) said: “The UK’s follow up reports, which we have previously submitted to the committee on the inquiry, demonstrate our ongoing commitment across the UK as a whole, and across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland individually, to support disabled people.

“The UK is fully committed to implementing the UN Convention of the right of person’s with disabilities. This is through legislation … and through policies that tackle the barriers faced by disabled people in order to realise their full participation and inclusion in society.”

Ms Gowland gave various examples of the policy and legislation the UK has implemented over the past few years (such as the BSL Act and the Down Syndrome Act) before handing over to representatives of the devolved administrations to outline specific action within their jurisdictions.

However, the UK rapporteurs, who sit on the UN Committee for the Rights of Disabled People, described UK policy and practice as “a pervasive framework and rhetoric that devalues disabled people’s lives”.

Newer legislation ‘lacks transformative change’

The committee highlighted the ways the UK government has violated the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Disabled People (UNCRDP), including a regression of disabled people’s rights.

They challenged the absence of a holistic approach to delivering benefits, both across devolved governments and individuals with intersectional experiences.

Their questions to the UK Government ranged from benefit related deaths and the violence of the current social security system, to the rise in disabled people being institutionalised, incarcerated and the “increasing use of restraints, restrictive practice and coercion”.

Disability Rights UK says the government’s response to the rapporteurs’ questions “lacked any substantive answers”, with the representatives “mostly repeating” what they had already outlined during the oral evidence session.

The government continued to highlight the Disability Action Plan and Disability Strategy, but the charity says these pieces of legislation lack any ‘transformative change’.

Charity calls on public to challenge rights violations

Kamran Mallick, CEO of Disability Rights UK, said: “Although we are not surprised by the UK Government’s response today, we still feel that their refusal to properly engage with this process is an insult to all disabled people whose experiences are reflected in the evidence we’ve provided to the UN.

“Despite requesting a delay last year, they have provided us with no new evidence – instead signposting to plans and policies that create no transformative change. The delegation shared all the ways they believe they’ve created progress for disabled people’s rights – but they know, just as we do, that no progress has been made. In fact, we have gone backwards.

“Accessing our basic support is not a luxury – whether that be getting a GP appointment on the day that you call, or having a social security system that works for all of us. Just because our government refuses to take responsibility on their failure to deliver this, that doesn’t mean that it’s not unacceptable.

“The world is watching, and UK government can no longer claim to be a leader in disability rights. We will continue to challenge these rights violations and ask that you join us by writing to your MP and supporting the Disabled People’s Manifesto.”

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