Reforms to the UK welfare system in recent years have resulted in “grave and systematic” violations of the rights of people with disabilities, a UN report has said.
Changes to benefits since 2010 had "disproportionately affected" people with disabilities, according to the UN Committee on the Rights of Disabled Persons (CRPD).
However, the government has strongly rebutted the report’s findings and defended its record on disability rights and support for people with disabilities.
The UN CRPD began its investigation in 2012 after disability organisations passed evidence to it of the alleged adverse impact of the then-coalition government’s welfare reforms on people with disabilities.
Two committee members visited several cities around the UK in October 2015 to assess if there were any gaps in human rights protection for people with disabilities. The inquiry also looked at recent welfare reforms, including the Welfare Reform Act 2012, Care Act 2014, and Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016.
The inquiry said that several factors, such as narrowing social care criteria, changes to housing benefits, the criteria for parts of the Personal Independence Payment – brought in to replace Disability Living Allowance – and the closure of the Independent Living Fund all "hindered disabled people's right to live independently and be included in the community.”
Additionally, the Spare Room Subsidy – or ‘bedroom tax’ – did not recognise that disabled people had arrangements that required additional rooms and some work schemes "had no visible impact in decreasing unemployment" among people with disabilities.
The UN CRPD report observed that government changes have caused financial hardship to people with disabilities, which had resulted in debts, evictions from housing and cuts to essentials such as housing and food.
But Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green rejected the UN CRPD report, saying it displayed an “an outdated view of disability which is patronising and offensive.”
As reported by the BBC, Green claimed: "The UN measures success as the amount of money poured into the system, rather than the work and health outcomes for disabled people.
"The UK is a recognised world leader in disabled rights and equality. Not only do we spend about £50 billion a year to support sick and disabled people, but we also offer a wide range of tailored and effective support, which this report fails to recognise.
"Our work and health Green Paper marks a turning point in our action to confront the attitudes, prejudices and misunderstandings within the minds of employers and across wider society."
But Green’s comments have been criticised by the Green Party. Jonathan Bartley, who co-leads the Green Party so he can support his disabled 14-year-old son Samuel, said: “Damian Green’s dismissal of the UN report’s findings reveals his complete ignorance to the reality of life for disabled people in the UK today.
“The report defends the human rights of disabled people, which have been systematically violated by this government – the only thing that is patronising and offensive is Green’s refusal to listen.
“The report was clearly very thorough, collecting comprehensive, reliable and consistent evidence from non-state agencies. In contrast, the report found the state has made claims that had no evidence at all.
“Life for disabled people has got worse under this Government and so the report’s findings are as relevant now as ever, and certainly not out of date as Green claims. He must acknowledge the report’s findings immediately.”
Meanwhile, a learning disability charity has called on the government to reconsider further planned cuts to benefits.
Dan Scorer, head of policy at Mencap, said: “This report is further acknowledgement that cutting disabled people’s benefits will only make life harder and isolate people further from inclusion in employment and wider society. People with a learning disability face massive exclusion from the labour market, and have seen their benefits and funding for vital social care services reduced. With further cuts to Employment and Support Allowance being introduced in April, we urge the government to use next week’s backbench debate in Parliament as an opportunity to reconsider this cut.”