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As U.K. disabled campaigners and civil society organisations we write to you to denounce attempts to delegitimise the UN interim report by UN officials carried out under Article 6 of the Optional Protocol of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities UNCRPD into alleged grave or systematic violations of the fundamental rights of disabled people by the Government of the United Kingdom.
In a report Controversial UN task force slams Britain’s welfare cuts and says disabled people are ‘unfairly bearing the brunt’ of austerity by Glen Owen, Political Correspondent for The Mail on Sunday, 5th November 2016, it was revealed that the UN rapporteurs’ interim report – produced under Article 6 of the UNCRPD Optional Protocol for investigating States parties ‘grave or systematic’ violations of the fundamental human rights of disabled people – had been leaked by government officials to The Mail on Sunday’s correspondent in advance of its official publication on the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities website scheduled for Monday 7th November 2016 at 1600 GMT +1.
This is unacceptable.
We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the contempt for international law, treaty obligations and diplomatic protocols shown by the U.K. Government’s Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Damian Green MP in leaking the report to a ‘friendly’ newspaper for purposes of party political propaganda with the intention of deflecting criticism.
In this and in other matters below, the U.K. Government’s Department of Work and Pensions has precedents: See DWP forced to release reports revealing its secret thoughts on the media By John Pring, Disability News Service, Thursday October 27th 2016.
The relevant passages contained within The Mail on Sunday article we wish to complain of contain four erroneous arguments as follows, each of which are familiar and have been used by the Conservative Government before.
We will refute each one in turn:
- ‘Ministers are planning to fight back by arguing that the findings are out of date, and by questioning the credibility of the authors, one of whom has called for state funding for disabled people to visit prostitutes.’
‘One of the authors, Stig Langvad, has argued that the Danish government should pay for disabled people to visit prostitutes, saying “Sexual frustration can be a major problem for the disabled, and in some cases the last solution is to visit a prostitute.’
‘Tory MP Andrea Jenkyns said last night: “If the UN’s benchmark is spending taxpayers’ cash on prostitutes, no wonder the common-sense policies of the UK fall short.”
Irrespective of the morality and ethical questions of that particular issue, this statement by a member of the ruling party constitutes an ad hominem attack on the integrity of a UN rapporteur carrying out his duties in order to discredit the UN. Sadly, it is not without precedent as U.N. Special Rapporteur Raquel Rolnik discovered in 2013 See:
Raquel Rolnik: A dabbler in witchcraft who offered an animal sacrifice to Marx by Michael Seamark for Mail Online, 12 September 2013
Now the meddling UN sends lawyer to Britain to probe whether benefits reforms ‘violate the human rights of the disabled’ Lawyer Catalina Devandas Aguilar expected to visit UK by Jason Groves, Deputy Political Editor for The Daily Mail 30 August 2015
Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps Pens Complaint To UN Over Raquel Rolnik’s ‘Politically Biased’ Bedroom Tax Comments by Paul Vale, Front Page Editor, The Huffington Post, 11 September 2013
United Nations: Tabloids Were ‘Xenophobic’ To Brazilian Bedroom Tax Inspector Raquel Rolnik by Tom Moseley, Reporter, Huffington Post UK 30 September 2013
- ‘A senior Whitehall source said that they intended to ‘push back hard’ by pointing out that the U.K. spends more on disability welfare than average among developed countries:
“We intend to point out that the UK spends more than £50 billion a year on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions, which is over £6 billion more than in 2010.”
The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) report The changing characteristics of UK disability benefit recipients by James Banks , Richard Blundell and Carl Emmerson, published 21 May 2015 reports that spending on disability benefits at £36 billion – however, this figure includes working age out-of-work sickness benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). ESA should not strictly be counted as a ‘disability’ benefit. This is because benefits such as DIsability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payments and Attendance Allowance are intended to compensate for the added costs associated with having a disability whilst ESA is a benefit paid to people who are out of work because of illness or impairment (i.e. many recipients are not “disabled people” but temporarily sick).. Thus, the actual figure for U.K. spending on disability benefits minus the spending on working age out-of-work sickness benefit of £7.908 billion is in reality £28.155 billion.
The IFS study also pointed out that proportionate spending on Disability Living Allowance/Personal Independence Payment was only half what it was in 1995-96. Spending across the U.K. on disability benefits in the period 2014–15 totalled £13.5 billion. At 0.8% of national income, this is half the proportionate level of U.K. government disability benefit spending than during the period 1995–96. Overall, the number of individuals receiving disability benefits has fallen slightly since the mid-1990s yet the underlying demographic changes that have occurred in the U.K. since then would, on the IFS’s empirically-based estimates, have led to any expectation of a considerably elevated level of spending factoring in overall population growth and the ‘baby boomer’ generation now reaching older working ages.
See also Ministers ‘misuse’ figures to show UK ‘is world leader’ on disability spending By John Pring, Disability News Service, Friday 16th August 2013
- “This committee has chosen the UK for its first report and we fear they are trying to make a name for themselves.”
The U.N. report states at Paragraph 3
‘In April 2013, the Committee received a formal request from a number of organizations of persons with disabilities alleging that serious and systematic violations of the provisions of the Convention were occurring against persons with disabilities. They requested that the Committee initiate an investigation into the matters raised in the request.’
See also: The disability activist who called in the UN by Mary O’Hara, The Guardian, Wednesday 16 September 2015 and UN’s conclusion that UK violated disability rights is ‘vindication’ for activists By John Pring Disability News Service 10 November 2016
- “Their evidence period runs until the end of 2015, so it is already out of date.”
We consider this a preposterous statement with no substance or empirical evidence to back it. The hard truth is that the situation for disabled people continues to deteriorate catastrophically apace.
Disabled People Against Cuts have been sending regular updates to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities up to the present day, ensuring that the factual information they have on developments is both up-to-date and relevant to the current situation ‘in the field’.
Closure of the ILF has resulted in a massive loss of funding for high-needs essential care in England. The reports ‘One Year On – Evaluating the Impact of the Closure of the Independent Living Fund’ by Inclusion London (2016) and ‘The Abuse Disabled People Face from Social Services & Funding Cuts Since ILF Closure’ by Disabled People Against Cuts (2016) set out this reality in heart-rending and forensic detail.
The new Benefit Cap introduced applied from this week affects many families with a disabled member and disabled people are only exempt if they qualify for the highest rates of PIP or DLA and from April 2017 a £30 a week cut in income will be applied to those disabled people on Employment and Support Allowance adjudged ‘capable of some work in the future’ and placed in the Work Related Activity Group. ‘Universal Credit’ is being continually rolled-out with punitive in-work conditionality and attendant sanctions and will affect many more disabled people. We live in dread of the new ‘Health and Work Programme’ now being prepared by the DWP.
Premature, avoidable deaths of disabled people are a direct result of U.K. Government reforms.
The U.N. report states:
- The State party initially stated that it did not monitor deaths that occurred after assessments. Evidence gathered during the inquiry indicated that, in 2012 and 2015, such information was released by the Department of Work and Pension following freedom of information requests. Additionally, information originated from official sources indicated that 33 deaths of claimants who died after being assessed were being examined. The State party claims that there is no causal link. The Committee is not aware of any attempts at objective, thorough, open and impartial investigation regarding those deaths by an independent body.
This is correct. However, an allegation that the Scottish common law criminal offence of wilful neglect of duty in public office was submitted to Police Scotland by The Black Triangle Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights on Good Friday, March 25th 2016 naming former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith and his Minister for Employment Chris Grayling as the accused for failing to fulfil their binding lawful duty to respond and act upon Her Majesty’s Coroners Service Prevention of Future Deaths Reports which it is alleged led to the deaths of at least three named individuals and possibly many, many more.
See: Scottish police assessing possible investigation into IDS and Grayling Friday 5 May 2016; DWP hides seven secret benefit suicide reviews Friday August 25 2016; Benefit claimants die as DWP staff keep failing to follow suicide guidelines Friday 8 September 2016 Duncan Smith tells DNS: ‘I’m not going to be accused by you’ over mental health deaths Thursday October 6 2016. The current lack of justiciability referred to in the U.N. reports findings was alluded to by a representative of the Black Triangle Campaign in their evidence to the Scottish Parliament Social Security Committee MSPs hear call for government to ‘speak out more forcefully’ on WCA deaths October 13, 2016 (All reports by disabled journalist John Pring of Disability News Service).
We’ve been here before
‘The problem with the UN report is that the UK has been here before. As The Canary previously reported, in June another UN committee slammed the government in a separate report. It found the government had, again, systematically abused the human rights of minority and vulnerable groups. All in the name of austerity. The UN said that the violations were so severe, the UK report was comparable with Honduras – a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world, and one which is subject to tourist travel warnings from both the US and the UK.
‘The UN stated the government must reverse all benefit cuts since 2010. But the government has completely ignored those findings, despite May’s claim to want a society that “works for everyone”. And the likelihood is that the latest UN report will go the same way. Sadly, there is an inherent flaw with everything that the UN has stipulated – none of it is legally binding. Essentially, the Conservative government currently has a free pass to ride roughshod over the human rights of anyone it deems less worthy in society. And the only way that will ever change is via the ballot box.
‘The DWP specifically came under fire for “disproportionately” applying benefits sanctions. The UN said the DWP benefit sanctions regime had left disabled people to rely on support from family or foodbanks. It said the Work Programme and Jobcentre Plus did almost nothing to help disabled people into work. It also found both of them ignored people’s specific needs.
‘But crucially, the UN said the DWP failed to properly investigate people’s deaths after their benefits were stopped. It noted that they had made no “attempts at objective, thorough, open and impartial investigation(s)” to look at the alleged 90 deaths a month.
‘The UN set out 11 recommendations that the government must consider. Linda Burnip from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) told The Canary:
DPAC are very pleased that the publication of the UN inquiry into the grave and systematic violation of disabled people’s human rights has vindicated our complaints to the UN. The committee’s damning report clearly demonstrates that the Tories were well aware of the negative impact of their actions and policies on disabled people. Yet they went ahead with these attacks, regardless. The actions of this government in relation to conscious cruelty against disabled people is now a matter of international public record.
Source: ‘The UK government has just been slammed for violating human rights, and Theresa May doesn’t care’ by Steve Topple, Journalist, The Canary, Thursday 8 November 2016.
Bill Scott, policy director of Inclusion Scotland, which gave evidence to the inquiry, said: “The UN’s report confirms everything that we have been saying about austerity and welfare reform for the past six years.
“The UK government has completely ignored its international treaty obligations and disabled people’s human rights. In doing so it has systematically deprived disabled people of their dignity and respect and the money that they need to live on via sanctions, mandatory reconsiderations, benefit cuts and unfair assessments.
“The result has seen disabled people losing everything, from their mental wellbeing to their homes and even their lives, with disabled people committing suicide and starving to death after losing their benefits.
“The UK government should be ashamed but it seems it cannot be embarrassed even by the condemnation of the UN because it does not intend to act on a single recommendation made in the report.
“At times like this we feel near despair that no-one seems able to make this government listen and act to protect disabled people’s most fundamental right, their right to live.”
Source: Third Force News UN savages Tory welfare reforms by Graham Martin Third Force News November 8 2016
On the day the report was published, Reuters News Agency reported that the U.N. committee of 18 independent experts visited Britain in October 2015 and that their report was based on more than 200 interviews and some 3,000 pages of documentary evidence British welfare reforms trampled on disabled rights – U.N. inquiry by Tom Miles, Reuters News Agency, Monday Nov 7 2016.
Their work must not be vain.
It is clear from the evidence that the strategy of the British Government is to discredit and delegitimise the report in the court of UK public opinion assisted by our overwhelmingly right-wing press with whose editors and correspondents the ruling party enjoys a close working relationship.
The United Kingdom Government is to be condemned for its behaviour. It has freely entered into international treaty obligations under the UNCRPD only to abrogate its duties under the convention and hurl abuse at individual UN officials tasked with conscientiously and fairly carrying out their work under mutually-agreed States parties’ protocols.
We therefore call upon you as Secretary General to censure the UK Government for this unacceptable behaviour and breach of diplomatic protocol and furthermore to engage seriously with the empirical evidence contained within the report, line by line, so as to remedy the many breaches of the UNCRPD contained therein or refute them, as the case may be.
Finally, but not least, in keeping with the rules of natural justice we call upon the UK Government to publish both the interim report and the final report in full so that the British people may decide upon the legitimacy or otherwise of its findings.
If the government maintains that its behaviour and treatment of chronically ill and/or disabled people is both just and proportionate and it has nothing to hide it will have no difficulty in complying with this request.
Any failure to do so will lead the British general public to form a very different opinion to the one currently being advanced by our current U.K. ruling party and government.
Our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world and the British public in particular must be educated to know and understand, to learn and to teach that fundamental abuses of human rights are not the exclusive preserve of any one country or community but that they occur in every country, city, town, village and community worldwide.
They are happening to our disabled people here in the U.K. today on a scale that is unprecedented in the post-1945 period.
Secretary General, it is your duty to speak out for us now, for our disabled people are losing hope.
Signed (Scroll down)
In memory of Debbie Jolly R.I.P. Co-Founder of Disabled People Against Cuts who has passed away today, Thursday 10th November 2016, without whose hard work, dedication and love this report would never have been published.
IN LOVING MEMORY of our beloved friend and comrade Debbie Jolly who has left our world today. It is because of the love, work and dedication of women like Debbie that the world continues to carry on, so that this generation of disabled people and those yet unborn will have a future and a hope.
“It is not incumbent on you to finish the work, but neither are you entitled to refrain from it” ~ Ethics, Pirkei Avot 2:16
You have done your work, dearest Debbie. This stands as your last will and testament:
‘UN’s conclusion that UK violated disability rights is ‘vindication’ for activists’ By John Pring Disability News Service Thursday 10th November
‘Disabled activists who persuaded the United Nations (UN) to investigate serious breaches of rights by the UK government say their four-year journey has been vindicated, after a report concluded there had been “grave or systematic violations” of the UN’s disability convention.
‘Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) – led by its co-founder Debbie Jolly – first approached the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) four years ago, and lodged a formal request to investigate the allegations the following year.’
And now we who you left behind will try in our turn to finish it. May Debbie’s memory be for a blessing and give us all strength. John McArdle Co-Founder Black Triangle Anti-Defamation Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights Edinburgh, Thursday 10th November 2016
‘For A Friend’ by Jimmy Somerville in memory of you, dearest friend and comrade R.I.P. Debbie.
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Signatories from individuals from supportive civil society, trade union, community groups and organisations welcomed.
The closing date for this letter has been extended until Friday 18th November 2016 at 17.30
Please distribute among your networks accordingly.
Thank you for your support.
LIST OF SIGNATORIES
John McArdle Co-Founder Black Triangle Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights
Dr Stephen Carty, GP, Leith, Member and Medical Adviser Black Triangle Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights
Linda Burnip and Debbie Jolly Co-Founders Disabled People Against Cuts and DPAC Steering Group
Rick Burgess Manchester DPAC / Recovery In The Bin
Gail Ward Cross-Border Alliance and Cradle to Grave Campaign
Paul Laverty, Scriptwriter, ‘I, Daniel Blake’, Associate Director of Sixteen Films Ltd
Mo Stewart, Independent Researcher, Author of ‘Cash Not Care: the planned demolition of the UK welfare state’
Catherine Hale Independent Researcher, Member of the Spartacus Network
Peter Tatchell, Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation
Francesca Martinez, Disabled Comedienne, Public Figure, Activist
Nick Dilworth Welfare Rights Advocate Plymouth Advice and My Legal Forum
Denise McKenna Mental Health Resistance Network MHRN
Canon Ruth Gould MBE DL WCMT FRSA Artistic Director, DaDaFest
Lynne Turnbull CEO, Cheshire Centre for Independent Living
Marion Fallon DPAC Norfolk and Unite Community Equalities Officer
Jonathan Toye West Norfolk Disability information Service (WNDiS)
Liz Crow, artist-activist, Roaring Girl Productions
Dr Simon Duffy, Centre for Welfare Reform
Ian Jones, WoW Campaign
Simon Barrow, Director, Ekklesia think-tank
Tommy Sheppard MP Scottish National Party SNP Edinburgh East
Dr Philippa Whitford MP Scottish National Party SNP Central Ayrshire
Kirsteen Oswald MP Scottish National Party SNP East Renfrewshire (SNP Westminster Group Spokesperson on Armed Forces and Veterans
Martin Docherty-Hughes MP Scottish National Party SNP West Dumbartonshire
Martyn Day MP Scottish National Party SNP Linlithgow and East Falkirk
Maggie Chapman, Rector of the University of Aberdeen, Co-Convenor Scottish Green Party on behalf of The Scottish Greens
Christopher Napier Scottish Disabled Greens Group
Ellie Conway Scottish Disabled Greens Group
Max Wiszniewski on behalf of Common Weal
John Dalrymple, CEO, In Control Scotland
Les Scaife , Chair, West Lancashire Peer Support
Annie Bishop, Involve North East and Cumbria
Rev Paul Nicolson, Founder, Taxpayers Against Poverty
Liz Jones Carers Solidarity Forum
Hilda Palmer, Hazards Campaign
Charlotte Shaw, Managing Director, Kaleidoscope Brokerage, Bury
Sam Sly, Enough Is Enough Time4Change
Walter Weir time ge
Joe Whittaker Chairperson Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People
Alisdair Cameron, Launchpad, NEt and ReCoCo
Linda Cox – Advocacy volunteer at WNDiS & Secretary of GMB Ability
Pat Onions, Pat’s Petition
Emily Morton, Chief Executive Disability Sheffield
Mark Harrison, Chief Executive, Equal Lives
Dave Dennis GMB K17 Branch Secretary
Cathy Brosnan Parent of a Disabled Adult
Anne Pridmore Chair Being the Boss
Rob Marsh, DAN Cymru
Becki Meakin on behalf of Shaping Our Lives
Gordon Brunning Chair dis [ ability ] – the disability forum
Hazel Quinn, Atos Miracles Support Group
Anita Bellows DPAC
Christine Stringer DPAC
Mike Sivier, Human Rights Campaigning Journalist Vox Political
Rory Fusedale Louth Service Users Group
Tara Flood, Director Alliance for Inclusive Education ALLFIE
Chris Edwards External Research Associate, University of East Anglia, Norwich
Sean McGovern, Chair, Trade Union Congress TUC Disabled Workers Committee
Kathryn Bole, Chair of Trustees Suffolk Coalition of Disabled People
Caroline Richardson, Spartacus Network
Dr Richard House, C.Psychol., Educational Consultant, Stroud, UK
British Psychological Society
Andrew Lee, Director, People First
Mark Harrison, Norfolk DPAC
Joyce Kallevik, Director, Wish
Sue Porter, University of Bristol
Gerry Zarb on behalf of SPECTRUM CIL