Tory austerity policies are having an adverse effect on disabled people in our society. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has concluded that Government cuts to social security have a disproportional impact on disabled people and they violate the rights of disabled people living in Britain.
The UK ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2009. By doing so we committed to protecting and promoting the human rights of disabled people. Embarrassingly for the Government, the UK is the first and so far only country to be investigated by the UN for breaching the Convention.
The UN’s report shows that the austerity policies brought in by the Government in 2010 to reduce public spending, such as the destructive bedroom tax and the damaging cuts to social security and social care budgets are infringing on the rights of disabled people.
This report confirms what Labour has been warning all along; despite Theresa May’s warm words on the steps of Downing Street, promising a fair deal for all in our society, this Conservative government is consistently failing sick and disabled people. And what do they do in response? They dismiss this report and refuse to take action.
It is disappointing, but not all that surprising, to see the Government continue to dodge responsibility. Their complete dismissal of all 11 of the Committee’s recommendations and the publication of a lengthy defence of their failing policies, shows just how blind they Government are to the everyday reality of disabled people’s lives.
This is a slap in the face to disabled people organisations such as Disabled People Against Cuts who have been campaigning tirelessly to bring to light the human rights violation disabled people across the UK experience daily.
The disabled community is tired of broken promises, they desperately need to be treated with respect and dignity not plunged into poverty or worse.
The Committee’s investigations were broad and wide-ranging, but it’s worth highlighting their findings in a few key areas; employment, DWP health assessments and social care.
Despite the Governments oft repeated aim to halve the disability employment gap, the employment rate for disabled people is only 48% and the nature of this employment is often transient, low paid and insecure. Disabled people deserve to have access to meaningful, well-paid employment if they are able to work.
Disabled people from disadvantaged backgrounds are also far more likely to be out of work. The employment rate for those with mental health conditions who live in social housing is as low as 16%, half of the rate of those who have a mental health condition and do not live in social housing.
The UN Committee found that the Government’s work schemes “had no visible impact on decreasing unemployment” among disabled people, and some who accessed other programmes experienced reductions in support or “loss of employment”.
Work Capability Assessments (WCA) cause needless misery and stress for thousands upon thousands of sick and disabled people. The UN Committee found that health assessments did not take into account the “support persons with disabilities need to perform a job or the complex nature of some impairments and conditions”. Labour has committed to scrapping the WCA and replacing it with a holistic, person-centred approach, based on principles of dignity and inclusion.
Our overstretched and underfunded social care system is overstretched and struggling to cope. The Committee found evidence that demonstrates increasing financial hardship for disabled people as a result. The report highlights what many disabled people already know, that those the authorities determine of not having “substantial or critical levels of care” are often left without any care at all.
Labour will completely overhaul the social security system. Starting from first principles, we will change the culture of the system, in terms of its purpose, how services are delivered and performance managed. But fundamentally, we want to change how our social security system is perceived. The Tories have consistently used poisonous language to demonise disabled people who rely on social security. Words like “shirker” and “scrounger” are often used to describe them as the new undeserving poor.
We believe, like the NHS, our social security system is based on principles of inclusion, support and security for all. This assures us of our dignity, should we fall on hard times or become incapacitated. Nine-tenths of disabilities are acquired – it could happen to anyone of us. I don’t want people who have paid into the system all their life to be made to feel worthless and dehumanised by a state that should be there to support them. We will continue to promote equality of opportunity for all in our society.
For too long disabled people have been excluded from society.
I truly believe that the full economic and social participation of disabled people is essential for an inclusive and cohesive society. Disabled people have a right to live full and independent lives and should not have to pay the price for the Government’s economic mismanagement. As Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions I will continue to hold the Government to account and ensure that no one is left behind.