Welfare austerity is violation of rights
A highly critical report from the UN, based on an 11 day tour of the UK by two United Nations’ envoys, says that the rights of disabled people to live independently, to work, and achieve an adequate standard of living have been negatively affected by austerity measures.
The “welfare reforms” introduced by the government since 2010 in order to reduce public spending, have had a disproportionate effect which amounts to “systematic violations” of the rights of people with disabilities.
The measures concerned include:
• change from DLA to PIP
• ESA and Work Capability Assessments
• Bedroom Tax
• cuts to social care budgets
• closure of the Independent Living Fund
The UN report says that the rights of disabled people to independence, employment and an adequate standard of living have been negatively affected by austerity measures.
The eleven recommendations it contains include a call for the government to carry out a study of the cumulative impact of all spending cuts on disabled people – something that disability campaigners in Britain have been demanding since the welfare reforms began. The report also calls for an undertaking to uphold the human rights of disabled people.
Campaigners against austerity have welcomed the report
Linda Burnip, a founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and one of the main instigators of the UN investigation, said it…
“came as no surprise to anyone who has followed the stripping away of disabled people’s rights over the last six years.”
Government formally rejects the report
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the government response has been a rejection of the findings of the UN report, which it says is not an accurate picture of life in Britain for disabled people.
“While the government continues to improve and build on the support available to disabled people, it stands by and is proud of its record.”
Ministers ignored the adverse impact of reforms
The report found that ministers pushed through a programme of welfare and social care reforms, even though they knew there would be an adverse impact on disabled people. Cuts to disability benefits and the closure of the Independent Living Fund pushed many disabled people into having to rely on family and friends for support, and some were even forced into residential care.
Measures such as the bedroom tax, or spare room subsidy, have had a disproportionate effect on disabled people, leading to an increase in indebtedness and eviction.
“Evidence indicates that persons with disabilities affected by cuts in their housing benefits have undergone high levels of stress anxiety and depression as a consequence of the shortfalls in their budget.”
“Functional assessments” rather than medical history
Strong criticism is meted out for the way in which disabled benefit applicants are assessed. The principle of applying “functional assessments” – i.e. looking at what an applicant seems able to do on the day, rather than taking note of their medical history and input from health professionals who have been caring for them.
As well as leading to a very high level of decisions overturned on appeal, this has made disabled people feel that the system simply processes them, rather than listening to them and understanding their situation.
The government attempt to get more disabled people into work has not achieved much success, despite the imposition of deeply flawed “fit for work” tests.
Disabled people demonised in the media
The UN report found that there was a climate of hostility towards disabled people, with media portrayals suggesting that they were lazy and a burden on taxpayers. This perception has led to them experiencing an increase in verbal abuse and aggressive behaviour.
It concluded that:
“There is reliable evidence that the threshold of grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities has been met.”
Two years’ deliberating before launching the enquiry
Disability rights campaigners first made a formal complaint to the UN in 2012, alleging violations of human rights.
It took two years before the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities decided to let the investigation go ahead, in May 2014.
Based on an 11-day inquiry tour, undertaken by two UN envoys, in October 2015, the report was founded on evidence from more than 200 individuals, including officials and MPs, as well as activists and academics.
The UK has been a signatory to the UN convention on the rights of people with disabilities since 2007.
Cash Not Care: the planned demolition of the UK welfare state
Shortly before the UN delivered its damning verdict on the UK government’s austerity policies, a book was published by Mo Stewart, based on six years’ research, showing how government has taken a systematic approach to unravelling the safety net of support that chronically sick and disabled people depend on. You can read more about “Cash Not Care: the planned demolition of the UK welfare state” here.
Death of campaigner, Debbie Jolly, overshadows report
Co-founder of DPAC, Debbie Jolly, worked tirelessly alongside Linda Burnip, protesting against austerity cuts, and demanding that the government be held to account for the impact of welfare reforms on the lives of disabled people.
Sadly, she died in hospital just a few days after publication of the UN report she had been instrumental in securing. She was just 48 years old.
She will have the last word here:
“An independent review is long overdue, the deaths of David Clapson, Mark Wood and countless others were because of the increasing and punitive use of sanctions.
“An inquiry won’t bring them or the documented 10,600 people who died within six weeks of the work assessments back, but the DWP must accept responsibility for what is literally corporate manslaughter through their actions.
“We need the full figures of these crimes to be made public, the full numbers of deaths through these actions and the publication of the 49-60 internal reviews. Any independent review must not gloss over these facts. Sanctions cause starvation and death.
“That is unacceptable anywhere, let alone in the seventh-richest country in the world. It’s not just about looking at sanctions, but scrapping them and bringing those responsible to account through the law courts.”
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Further reading and resources
You can read more about the Disability Benefits Consortium report into the effects of welfare changes here
Read about the parliamentary inquiry into benefit sanctions here