THE BLOG

Join Us In Asking The Government To Stop Breaching The Rights Of Disabled People

23/08/2017 13:47 BST | Updated 23/08/2017 13:52 BST
Philip Toscano/PA Wire

Geneva gave its name to perhaps the most famous international convention of them all - the international agreements governing behaviour in wartime.

It's therefore appropriate that the city is this week hosting an international assessment of the UK's progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People. When the UK government signed the convention in 2009, many deaf and disabled people felt this was a moment of hope: their government was committing to supporting them to lead independent lives.

Sadly, this week deaf and disabled people's organisations (DPPOs) from across the UK have travelled to Geneva to tell the UN committee reviewing progress that they feel betrayed by their own government.

The UN committee has already concluded in a report published last November that the government's welfare reform agenda has led to 'grave and systemic' abuses of disabled people's rights under the convention.

We have seen cuts in health and social care services that support people to live independently - a key commitment in the convention. Policy and funding changes mean that in England alone the number of people being supported has fallen by 400,000 since 2009 - when the numbers needing support has risen.

Meanwhile, it is estimated that at least 300,000 households who need accessible homes cannot access appropriate housing. In many cases, people are not even provided with aids and adaptations to their existing homes as these budgets have been cut by cash-strapped local authorities.

The language around welfare reform has also coincided - and quite possibly driven - a significant in hate crime against disabled people. This too breaches our human rights under the convention.

It would be wrong, however, just to focus on the measures and policies that can be directly traced to the austerity agenda.

Back in 2009, many people with mental health issues dared to hope that the convention's provisions around equal recognition before the law (article 12) and liberty and security of the person (article 14) meant they could live their lives free from the risk of institutionalisation or compulsory treatment and detention.

Instead, we have seen greater use of compulsory detention and forced community treatment powers. In 2014/15, 4,564 people received community treatment orders - despite the expectation when the relevant legislation was going through Parliament in 2008 that it would affect 400-600 people a year.

The number of people with mental health issues detained against their will in England rose by a record 10% between 2013/2014 and 2014/15 and by a further 9% the following year. And the evidence also shows that black people who have contact with mental health services are more than 50% more likely to be detained against their will than white people.

Meanwhile, nearly eight years on from the UK signing the convention, the next generation of disabled people is already being failed. For example, the percentage of children with special educational needs being educated in mainstream schools has fallen from 29% to 23% as disabled children have been forced into segregated education.

They face an uncertain future when the government provides evasive or inadequate responses to the committee on issues such as the gaps in health outcomes and in employment and average pay.

We're particularly disappointed that in the papers it submitted ahead of this week's oral questioning, the government simply ignored questions put to it by the committee - and the recommendations that emerged from the committee's separate urgent investigation into the impact of welfare reforms.

When the committee publishes its report following this wider investigation, we expect ministers will fall back on tired and unsubstantiated claims that the UK leads the way in disability rights. Its approach to the UN committee's work suggests that ministers see the international convention as a trivial matter and the committee that oversees it as an irritating summer-time tick to be brushed away.

But human rights breaches are not just committed by self-parodic dictators who delight in throwing opponents into dark, dank prisons.

We hope that the media and other organisations will join us in asking the government to simply do what it signed up to do in 2009 and stop breaching the basic rights of disabled people.

In the end, it's all about trust and good faith. Is the government's word its bond - or not?