Press Release: UN Rapporteurs Questions UK Government Over Benefits Deaths and Austerity 

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On 18 March 2024 the UK Government provided their oral defence to the United Nations Committee for the Rights of Disabled People, regarding the UK’s “grave and systemic” violations of the UNCRDP. This comes after they refused to attend the last evidence session in August 2023 – requesting a delay to March 2024 – when Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations (DDPOs) outlined the harsh reality that we’re all currently living under in the UK. 

Note: We refer to the convention as the Convention on the Rights of Disabled People (CRDP) rather than the given name – Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) – as we follow the Social Model of Disability. The convention allows us to do this. 

The UK rapporteurs, who sit on the UN Committee for the Rights of Disabled People, accurately represented the systemic barriers and discrimination that Disabled people are facing. They consistently expressed that evidence shows violations of the UNCRDP, including a regression of Disabled people’s rights. 

On social security – the committee challenged the absence of a holistic approach to delivering benefits, both across devolved Governments and individuals with intersectional experiences. They specifically highlighted those in mental distress and those who experience domestic abuse, and emphasised 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 institutionalised, incarcerated and the “increasing use of restraints, restrictive practice and coercion” – amongst other pressing 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 and thoughtful questions by the rapporteurs and committee members/commissioners, the UK Government’s response lacked any substantive answers – mostly repeating what was already outlined in their introductory oral evidence. They celebrated the Disability Action Plan and Disability Strategy, both of which lacked any transformative change, alongside highlighting impairment-specific actions they’d taken with the BSL Act – a largely performative piece of legislation that 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, when the additional police powers and attack on protest rights that this legislation has provided has in practice eroded our rights and safety. 

DDPOs eagerly anticipate the committee’s full report, including their follow-up recommendations. 

Rhian Davies, Chief Executive of Disability Wales said:

“The evidence we heard from the UK Government is far removed from the reality of disabled people’s lives and experiences since 2016. We are not shocked, but appalled by the lack of acknowledgement concerning the deaths of disabled people awaiting assessment decisions, the criticism of DDPO’s regarding recent policy such as the Health and Disability White Paper or the harm caused by the disablist “benefit scroungers” stereotyping promoted by the UK Government. 

In Wales, although we are glad to see mention of the Disability Rights Taskforce and Locked Out report, we are disheartened that there was no mention that 68% of COVID-19 deaths in Wales were disabled people and that we still do not have a clear timeline on incorporation of the UNCRDP into Welsh Law. 

Disabled people deserve true accountability from their Governments and answers to the burning questions posed yesterday together with robust actions to address the harms inflicted as well as progress our rights. We thank the United Nations Committee and the UK Rapporteurs for their strong questioning and the opportunity to have shared evidence with them last August.” 

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