A UN committee has criticised the UK’s disability rights record in the strongest possible terms.
On 23rd and 24th August, the UN Committee for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) undertook a thorough scrutiny of the UK government’s policies and response to the CRPD. The UK government had presented an initial report and for 2 days was subjected to intense questioning by the Committee. Numerous questions related to how the UK would safeguard CRPD rights post-Brexit.
Stig Lanvad, a Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the UK said that "this dialogue was the most challenging exercise in the history of the Committee and that it demonstrated differing perceptions of the implementation of human rights in the State party".
He went on to say that the Committee "was deeply concerned that the United Kingdom still considered itself a leader despite its inconsistent disability policy, and urged it to take appropriate measures to address the recommendations contained in the Committee’s inquiry report". Strong words indeed from an inherently diplomatic organisation.
On 29 August the Committee circulated an Advance unedited version of its Concluding observations on the initial report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Two paragraphs of positive comment were followed by 70 paragraphs of significant concerns and numerous recommendations. What follows is necessarily brief highlights of areas of concern to Mind.
Committee members had asked a number of questions about the failure of the UK to adopt the human rights model of disability. The definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010 centres around the individual’s "impairment" and makes no reference to societal or environmental barriers as having the potential to be a component of the individual’s disability. The Committee recommended that the UK take steps to bring the concept of disability in line with article 1 of the CRPD.
The Committee was concerned about the persisting occurrence of negative attitudes, stereotypes and prejudice at people with disabilities in general and psychosocial, intellectual and neurological ones in particular. The committee recommended that the UK in close collaboration with organisations of persons with disabilities strengthen its awareness campaigns aimed at combating these attitudes. Indeed, the need to take action in collaboration with people with lived experience and their representatives was a theme running through many of the recommendations.
Equal recognition before the law
The committee expressed concern about:
- The legislation restricting legal capacity of persons with disabilities on the basis of actual or perceived impairment
- The prevalence of substituted decision-making and lack of full recognition of the right to individualised supported decision-making that respects the autonomy, will and preferences of persons with disabilities
- The insufficient support to all asylum seekers with psycho-social and/or intellectual disabilities, in exercising their legal capacity
- The high number of black people with disabilities compulsorily detained and treated against their will.
It was recommended that the UK, in close collaboration with organisations of persons with disabilities (including those representing people from black and minority ethnic groups) abolish all forms of substituted decision-making concerning all spheres and areas of life. It went on to suggest adopting new policy and legislation in terms of mental health and mental capacity. This suggestion is timely, coming as it does as we wait to see how the Government will fulfil its promise in the Queen’s Speech to "reform mental health legislation".
Liberty and Security of the Person
The committee was concerned that the UK has legislation that "provides for involuntary, compulsory treatment and detention both inside and outside hospital on the basis of actual or perceived impairment". It recommended that the UK repeals this legislation. This would obviously require the most fundamental of rethinks of the Mental Health Act 1983!
Freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
This related to concerns about the continued use of "physical, mechanical and chemical restraint" of people with psychosocial disabilities in a variety of settings and including the practices of segregation and seclusion. The committee recommended eradicating these practices.
Adequate standard of living and social protection
The committee was concerned about the austerity measures implemented in the UK in general, and in particular called upon the UK to repeal the PIP regulations and conduct a review of the conditionality and sanction regimes concerning Employment and Support Allowance and tackle negative consequences on mental health of persons with disabilities. These are things Mind has campaigned for and we would heartily endorse these recommendations.
The CRPD committee has pulled no punches: its chair, Theresia Degender, called the UK government’s cuts to social security and other support for disabled people "a human catastrophe", which was "totally neglecting the vulnerable situation people with disabilities find themselves in". The committee spoke of the disconnect between the UK’s responses to many of its questions and the lived experience of disabled people and questioned the UK’s right to see itself as a champion of disabled people’s rights. The committee called for progress on two key issues: the UK and devolved governments must safeguard and strengthen disabled people’s rights and put in place a cohesive and coordinated approach, and a United Kingdom-wide plan, to implement the Committee’s recommendations. We support the committee in this and urge the government to take up the Committee’s suggestion to collaborate closely with those with lived experience and civil society in making the much-needed progress.