UN inquiry considers alleged UK disability rights violations
Summary: The findings of a UN inquiry investigating alleged violations of disabled people’s human rights in the UK as a result of welfare reforms will not be published for two years, the Guardian has learned.
The UN launched its confidential investigation at a closed hearing in London on 14 October, at which UN officials took evidence on the effects of welfare cuts from UK campaigners, lawyers and disability service users.
The inquiry by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) marks the the first time a country has been investigated by the committee over human rights breaches.
The investigation is asking witnesses for testimony and evidence on the how welfare changes and cuts introduced under the coalition government have affected the right of disabled people to live independently.
The Guardian understands the hearing in London included a series of emotional and often distressing accounts from people who had experienced the welfare changes first hand, or seen the impact on family members.
The UN has insisted on conducting the inquiry in private, with witnesses asked to sign an agreement preventing them from speaking about the meeting, or identifying who gave evidence. It said confidentiality is necessary to secure the co-operation of the host country and to protect witnesses.
The UN told the Guardian evidence submitted to the inquiry, its subsequent report to the UK government and the government’s response will not be published until the CRPD meets to discuss the inquiry in Geneva in 2017.
Although the UK government has to accept the findings of the final UN report, there is no legal obligation for it to act on it.
Campaigners have welcomed the inquiry, pointing out that an investigation is only triggered if the CRPD considers the submission of “reliable information indicating grave and systematic violation” of disabled people’s rights is strong enough to warrant further scrutiny.
The process was initiated in May 2012 by grassroots campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (Dpac) under article 6 of the optional protocol within the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (UNCRPD).
Dpac submitted to the UN scores of documents and testimonies detailing the impact on disabled people of a range of policies, including the work capability assessment “fit for work” tests, the bedroom tax, benefit sanctions, personal independence payments and the abolition of the Independent Living Fund.
Dpac co-founder Linda Burnip told the Guardian: “As this is the first time any country has been investigated by the UN using the optional protocol in the UNCRPD, it is a historic and momentous event that would make most politicians recoil in shame. Whether or not it will have this effect on the Tories we will have to wait and see.”
The Department for Work and Pensions said: “We strongly reject the allegations made by Dpac. The UK has a proud record of furthering the rights of disabled people, with the principles of the UN convention at the heart of our approach.
“We are committed to supporting disabled people in society and spend around £50bn every year on disabled people and their services. We are happy to inform the inquiry of this.”
It is believed UK ministers contested Dpac’s evidence in private correspondence with the UN over the past two years but failed to persuade the committee not to launch an investigation. The government, which is expected to give evidence to the inquiry, finally gave formal approval for the UN visit in the summer.
After the committee members have studied the evidence its findings will be put to the UK government. Ministers will then have six months to respond. The UN will consult with Dpac and again with the UK government before finalising its report.
According to the Disability News Service, UN investigation team’s two-week inquiry is holding hearings in Manchester, Bristol, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Signatories to the convention agree to “protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity”.
The government has previously criticised a UN investigation into UK housing. In February 2014 special investigator on housing Raquel Rolnik advocated the abolition of the bedroom tax. The housing minister at the time, Kris Hopkins, criticised her report as a “misleading Marxist diatribe”.
Source The Guardian
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