Today the government will host the Global Disability Summit in London but the Tories are no world leaders on disability rights – their record is abysmal.
The government’s hypocrisy is no more clearly demonstrated than in the fact that the Secretary of State hosting the summit – which is aimed at guaranteeing “the rights, freedoms, dignity and inclusion” of disabled people – is Penny Mordaunt, who was herself minister for disabled people when a UN report found that the government had violated disabled people’s rights.
The UN published this report two years ago, after the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had taken the unprecedented step of investigating one of its signatories – the UK government – for breaching its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The committee’s findings were unambiguous: The government had caused “grave and systematic” violations of disabled people’s rights. The committee chair described austerity as having led to a “human catastrophe” for disabled people.
These judgements were hardly news to the millions of disabled people who had been struggling under government policies.
The hypocrisy of the government is staggering. The Minister for Disabled People recently had the audacity to claim that she was “utterly committed” to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”, yet the government is still yet to even provide a detailed response to the UN Committee’s more than 80 recommendations, and it rejected the UN’s damning judgement out of hand.
This hypocrisy is starkly evident in the summit’s “Charter for Change”, which takes as its cornerstone the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Since the Secretary of State overseeing the summit was a former Minister for Disabled People in a government that was condemned by the UN for breaking that convention, how can she talk with a straight face to world leaders and disabled people’s organisations about this?
The charter includes 10 commitments for participants to agree to, 8 of which the government has itself clearly violated (and one of which is empty posturing).
For example, it calls on countries to commit to “gather and use better data and evidence to understand and address the scale, and nature, of challenges faced by persons with disabilities”.
Yet one of the major recommendations from the committee is for the government to carry out a cumulative impact assessment of its tax and social security changes since 2010, something the government has stubbornly refused to do.
We know this can be done – the Equality and Human Rights Commission has done it, finding that those changes had a particularly damaging impact on disabled people.
Another call of the charter is for countries to “eliminate stigma and discrimination through legislation”. This will sound like a bad joke to the estimated 220,000 disabled people wrongly denied social security support due to what the High Court called “blatantly discriminatory” changes to Personal Independence Payments.
The charter concludes with a commitment to “hold ourselves and others to account for the promises we have made here today.” For this commitment to be made by Mordaunt’s department – under whose watch the government excused itself from promises it was committed to as part of the UN Convention – beggars belief.
This government treats disabled people with disdain and contempt. From the Bedroom Tax to swingeing cuts to Personal Independence Payments, government cuts have been felt most acutely by those already struggling.
The Department for Work and Pensions charge sheet of failures is long, including an “error” that led to more than 70,000 ill and disabled people being underpaid thousands in Employment and Support Allowance, with what a public accounts committee recently described as a “culture of indifference” leading to it taking six years for this error to begin to be corrected.
The government’s Work Capability Assessments, carried out by profit-driven private companies, have been linked to a dramatic increase in the number of disabled people attempting suicide.
At the Global Disability Summit, the government will try to present itself as a world leader on disability rights. But disabled people know that it is anything but.
Let us remind them of the verdict of the United Nations:
“Grave and systematic” rights violations, a “human catastrophe” for disabled people.
On behalf of all those disabled people whose voices have been ignored, we cannot and will not let the government escape the truth. Their record on disability rights shames this country.
Marsha de Cordova is the Labour MP for Battersea