As health and social care budgets are slashed, disabled people’s right to independent living is being continually eroded, the UK’s equality and human rights bodies have said.
The warning comes ahead of a UN examination of the UK’s track record on disabled people’s rights on 23-24 August, which will be attended by Equinet members ECNI and the EHRC, amongst others.
After years of cuts to authorities who fund care across the UK, many disabled people who need support to live independently in the community are not getting help, or are only getting the bare minimum.
The latest analysis shows that disabled people are losing support to enable them to take part in community life, go out to work and see friends and family.
This is just one of a number of threats to disabled people’s rights highlighted in a report from the UK’s national human rights and equality commissions.
Other areas for concern include:
- the overall impact of seven years of cuts to social security payments
- gaps in legal protection and barriers to accessing justice
- the continued use of physical and chemical restraint
- bullying of disabled children in schools
- the need for further action to tackle disability hate crime and harassment
- the levels of legal protection for disabled people in Northern Ireland, which is lower than in the rest of the UK
Today the UK will be examined by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Geneva (see live stream here). The same committee last year judged that changes to social security had led to ‘grave and systematic violations’ of disabled people’s rights.
Speaking on behalf of the independent monitoring mechanism set up to monitor disabled people’s rights in the UK, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission David Isaac said:
“There is a real concern that disabled people are being increasingly marginalised and shut out of society as they bear the brunt of the accumulated impact of cuts in public spending. Disabled people have won hard fought battles in recent decades to ensure that they can live independently to exercise choice and control over their support. Evidence of regression must be confronted and urgently addressed.
As the UK and devolved governments’ track record on disability rights comes under the international microscope, we call for concerted action to remove the barriers in society that prevent disabled people living full lives on equal terms with non-disabled people. Everyone is entitled to the same opportunities and respect – the governments must start taking the human rights of disabled people more seriously.”
Equality Commission for Northern Ireland Chief Commissioner Dr Michael Wardlow said: “Our report to the UN Committee highlights that disabled people in Northern Ireland have less legal protection from discrimination than disabled people in Great Britain. We need action from Government to close this gap.
It is also not acceptable that the last Northern Ireland Executive Disability Strategy ended on 31 March 2017 with none of the signature projects associated with the Strategy having commenced. It is vital that we see action to ensure that key projects are delivered, that key issues are addressed, and that the lives of disabled people in Northern Ireland are improved.”
The report of the UK Independent Mechanism identifies a number specific issues concerning Northern Ireland:
- Legal Protections: There is a lower level of protection for disabled people in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the UK. The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has called on the Northern Ireland Executive to make changes to disability equality legislation, not only to keep pace with positive legislative changes in GB, but also to adopt measures which better reflect the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requirements in, for example, making provision for redress against multiple discrimination.
- Housing: A 2017 Equality Commission for Northern Ireland statement reported that many disabled people in Northern Ireland live in homes that are inadequate for their disability-related needs. The Northern Ireland Executive should implement in full the recommendations of the Inter-Departmental Review of Housing Adaptations Services Final Report and Action Plan 2016.
- Transport: There are a number of accessibility problems in Northern Ireland. A 2015 survey found that 30 per cent of disabled people stated that difficulties getting on or off vehicles prevented them from using public transport, compared with four per cent of non-disabled people. The Northern Ireland Executive should commit to resource and fully implement the Accessible Transport Strategy 2025.
- Special Educational Needs: Students with Special Educational Needs (SEN) or a disability have lower attainment levels than students without. A Northern Ireland Audit Office report in June 2017 was critical in terms of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, of the level of support currently provided to more than 75,000 children with SEN in mainstream schools. In May 2017 three schools apologised to the families of children with SEN after refusing to accept them as pupils. The families brought cases against the schools in question to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal with the support of the Equality Commission.
The report has been produced by the United Kingdom Independent Mechanism (UKIM). In 2009 the UK Government designated the following organisations as the UKIM under Article 33 of the Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD):
- Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
- Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI)
- Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC)
- Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC)
They are tasked with promoting, protecting and monitoring implementation of the CRPD.
Further reading available on UNCRPD website