ON 18 March 2024, the UK government provided its oral defence to the United Nations Committee for the Rights of Disabled People, regarding the UK’s “grave and systemic” violations of the Convention on the Rights of Disabled People (CRDP). The government refused to attend the last evidence session in August 2023, requesting a delay to March 2024.

The UK rapporteurs who sit on the UN Committee for the Rights of Disabled People spoke of the systemic barriers and discrimination that Disabled people in the UK are facing, and said that the evidence shows continuing violations of the Convention, including a regression of Disabled people’s rights.

On social security, the committee challenged the absence of a holistic approach to delivering benefits. They specifically highlighted those in mental distress and those who experience domestic abuse, and said that the current system is “trauma inducing”. Their questions to the UK government ranged from benefit-related deaths and the violence of the current social security system, to the rise in Disabled people being institutionalise and incarcerated, and the “increasing use of restraints, restrictive practice and coercion”, amongst other issues.

Rapporteurs described current UK policy and practice as “a pervasive framework and rhetoric that devalues Disabled people’s lives” which “tells Disabled people that they’re undeserving citizens” and “makes [Disabled] people feel like criminals” – particularly those who are trying to access the social security system.

Despite detailed questioning by the rapporteurs and committee members, the UK Government’s response lacked any substantive answers – mostly repeating what had already been outlined in their introductory statement. The UK government delegation, led by Alexandra Gowlland, Deputy Director of the Disability Unit in the Cabinet Office, cited the Disability Action Plan and Disability Strategy – neither of which are seen by Disabled people as representing any significant change. The delegation also highlighted impairment-specific actions the government had taken, with the British Sign Language (BSL) Act, a piece of legislation considered largely performative, which has no promised funding, and has not tangibly improved the rights of Deaf people.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act was also given as an example of progress in access to justice, and specifically BSL interpretation, but Deaf and Disabled people say the additional police powers and attack on protest rights that this legislation has provided has in practice eroded their rights and safety.

Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations say they eagerly anticipate the committee’s full report, including their follow-up recommendations.

Commenting on the evidence session, Kamran Mallick, CEO of Disability Rights UK said: “Although we are not surprised by the UK Government’s response today, we still feel that their refusal to properly engage with this process is an insult to all Disabled people whose experiences are reflected in the evidence we’ve provided to the UN.

“Despite requesting a delay last year, they have provided us with no new evidence – instead signposting to plans and policies that create no transformative change. The delegation shared all the ways they believe they’ve created progress for Disabled people’s rights – but they know, just as we do, that no progress has been made. In fact, we have gone backwards.

“Accessing our basic support is not a luxury – whether that be getting a GP appointment on the day that you call, or having a social security system that works for all of us. Just because our government refuse to take responsibility on their failure to deliver this, that doesn’t mean that it’s not unacceptable.

“The world is watching, and UK government can no longer claim to be a leader in disability rights. We will continue to challenge these rights violations and ask that you join us by writing to your MP and supporting the Disabled People’s Manifesto.”

John McArdle, of the Black Triangle Anti-Defamation Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights, based in Edinburgh, said: “Fourteen years of rock solid persistence exposing the the murderous, democidal systems and policies of the British Conservative government by Black Triangle Campaign and all our DPO allies, and when challenged directly over the countless Benefit Deaths over the past 14 years, they plead the ‘5th amendment’ – to borrow from the American lexicon – i.e. we refuse to comment for fear of incriminating ourselves.

“The UK government, by its acts and omissions has abrogated and repudiated its duties under this treaty convention. The United Nations will, we are certain, condemn the government in no uncertain terms once its report is published shortly. Any incoming Labour Government must pay attention to the #CRPD24 findings of fact and breach of the convention and act swiftly.”

Mark Harrison, of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance said: “The UN CRPD Committee is not fooled by the half truths, untruths and smokescreen presented by representatives of the British government. They know the Tories are completely hostile to human rights and equality for Disabled people. The UK delegation has presented the realities of human rights violations that demonstrate ongoing and deepening grave and systematic attacks on living standards and deaths from benefit amd cuts to community support services.”

Brett Sparkes and Andy Mitchell, of Unite the Union said: “Unite are concerned about the effect of the government policy on our disabled members. The continued use of divisive language and the rhetoric of labeling disabled workers as lazy is not only wrong but detrimental to our members. The UK delegation to the UN CRPD has done nothing to alleviate those concerns.”

Natasha Hirst, President of the National Union of Journalists said: “The UK Government has not stood up well to the scrutiny of the Committee. Their empty assertions of being committed to improving disabled people’s lives are in clear contrast with the daily reality of poverty, exclusion and a frequently punitive social security system. Planned reforms and continued negative rhetoric about disabled people will only make things worse. There is still much work to do to hold the government to account and expose the daily injustices that disabled people experience.”

Ann Galpin, TUC Disabled Workers’ Committee co-chair, said: “The Government spokesperson talked about closing the pay gap, yet has done nothing to implement mandatory disability employment and pay gap reporting which the TUC, unions and Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations have been campaigning for for years.”

* Read the preliminary summary of the session from the Committee here.

* Disability Rights UK has produced a template letter which you can use to call on your MP to push for the Convention on the Rights of Disabled People to be incorporated into UK law. Send a letter here.

* Read, listen to, or watch the Disabled People’s Manifesto here.

* More about the Convention on the Rights of Persons Wth Disabilities (CRPD) here.

* Sources: Disability Rights UK and Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities