It’s pretty shameful really, what the UN said about the UK’s treatment of people with disabilities. Last week, as part of a raft of recommendations, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities called on the government to take action to provide better support for inclusion, and to tackle increases in poverty, hate crimes and bullying against disabled children. It also expressed concerns about the use of restraint on disabled young people in the youth justice system.
What is the UNCRPD?
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is the body of independent experts that monitors states’ implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, that the UK signed up to in 2009. All States are obliged to submit regular reports to the Committee on how the rights are being implemented. Disabled people’s organisations and charities submitted their views to the UN and so did the government.
Having evaluated all the information, the Committee issued its pretty dim opinion of how the UK was doing in protecting and supporting people with disabilities. It seems that the UK is not doing very well. Not at all. And let's face it, we'd be more surprised if it had said anything else.
It noted in particular:
- The lack of consistency in understanding and applying the new human rights model of disability1, particularly concerning children and young persons with disabilities;
- The absence of a UK-wide review of policies and laws to make sure that they all comply with the Convention
- Existing laws, regulations, and practises that discriminate against persons with disabilities
- The lack of information about how disabled people will be protected from being negatively affected by Brexit
- The lack of policy framework addressing poverty of families with children with disabilities;
This is a comprehensive set of recommendations and so, for brevity and because of the focus of this site, I am only concentrating on those that pertain to children and young people from here. Even those are somewhat paraphrased so if you want the whole thing, follow the links at the end to read in full for yourself.
Article 7 - Children with disabilities
The Convention's Article 7 on children says:
- States Parties shall take all necessary measures to ensure the full enjoyment by children with disabilities of all human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with other children.
- In all actions concerning children with disabilities, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.
- States Parties shall ensure that children with disabilities have the right to express their views freely on all matters affecting them, their views being given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity, on an equal basis with other children, and to be provided with disability and age-appropriate assistance to realize that right.
What does the Committee say about how the UK has done on Article 7?
The UNCRPD says it's very concerned about the impact of UK’s policies on disabled children and young people, especially:
- A lack of government policy to address poverty among families with disabled children.
- Ineffective monitoring of bullying against disabled children in school
- A lack of a legal duty to ensure there is adequate childcare for children with disabilities
Among the recommendations made…
The concluding observations set out the concerns and then the recommendations. Of course this is pretty lengthy so again, if you want to read the whole thing, the link is at the end.
- Fund support organisations that represent disabled people, including women and children.
Abortion: Recommends changing abortion law to prevent prospective parents being given the perception that an unborn child who is likely to be born disabled will live a life of less value.
Women & girls with disabilities: Work with disabled women and girls to ensure their rights and gender-equality. Adopt inclusive and targeted measures, to prevent all discrimination women and girls with disabilities in education, employment, poverty, health, violence and access to justice.
Children: To consult with organisations of representing children with disabilities, develop and implement policies aimed at:
- Eliminating the higher level of poverty among families with children with disabilities;
- Incorporating the human rights model of disability1 into all laws and regulations concerning children with disabilities;
- Setting up an independent monitoring mechanism to assess the situation of children with disabilities in school, particularly those facing bullying, through reliable indicators;
- Strengthening measures to prevent bullying, hate speech and hate crime against children with disabilities.
- Securing sufficient and disability-sensitive childcare as a statutory duty
- Do more, in collaboration disabled people’s organisations to get rid of negative stereotypes and prejudice towards disabled people, especially those with intellectual and/or psychosocial disabilities. This should include mass-media strategies and campaigns, with different target audience groups based on the human rights model of disability.
The UK should identify areas where accessibility standards are not up to standard for designing affordable and accessible physical environments, housing, ICT, information-formats and transport infrastructure, including emergency services and green and public spaces relating to both urban and rural areas, and ensure its obligatory implementation;
Family life recommendations:
- Ensure appropriate support for parents with disabilities to fulfil effectively their role as parents and that disability is not used as a reason to place their children in care or remove their child from the home;
- Ensure that local authorities have the legal duty to allocate and provide funds for parents wishing to learn sign language.
Education recommendations: The thorny issue of Article 24.
I'm going to dwell longer on the education section, for obvious reasons. As disability inclusion campaigner, Richard Reiser, wrote on SNJ earlier this year,
“…when the UK Government ratified the UNCRPD in June 2009 it decided to place a number of restrictions on its UNCRPD obligations which subsequent Governments have upheld. When it adopted the UNCRPD and Article 24, it made an Interpretive Declaration and reservation.
“Education – Convention Article 24 Clause 2 (a) and (b)
The United Kingdom Government is committed to continuing to develop an inclusive system where parents of disabled children have increasing access to mainstream schools and staff, which have the capacity to meet the needs of disabled children. The General Education System in the United Kingdom includes mainstream and special schools, which the UK Government understands is allowed under the Convention.”
In its conclusion, the Committee addressed this and has told the UK government to get rid of any reservations forthwith.
“The Committee recommends that the State party without further delay withdraw its reservation to article 24 Clause 2 (a) and (b) of the Convention.”
The Committee pointed to:
- The persistence of a dual education system that segregates children with disabilities to special schools, including based on parental choice;
- The number of children with disabilities in segregated education environments is increasing because the education system is not geared to respond to the requirements for high-quality inclusive education, in particular the information about occurrences of school authorities turning down enrolment of student with disability who is deemed ‘as disruptive to other classmates’.
- Additionally, the education and training of teachers in inclusion competences is not reflecting the requirements of inclusive education.
- Develop a comprehensive and coordinated legislative and policy framework for inclusive education, and a timeframe to ensure that mainstream schools foster real inclusion of children with disabilities in the school environment and teachers and all other professionals and persons in contact with children understand the concept of inclusion and are able to enhance inclusive education;
- Strengthen measures to monitor school practices concerning enrolment of children with disabilities and offer appropriate remedies in cases of disability-related discrimination and/or harassment, including deciding upon schemes for compensation;
- Adopt and implement a coherent strategy, financed with concrete timelines and measurable goals, on increasing and improving inclusive education. The strategy must:
- Ensure the implementation of laws, decrees and regulations improving the extent and quality of inclusive education in classrooms, support provisions and teacher training, including pedagogical capabilities, across all levels providing for high-quality inclusive environments, including within breaks between lessons and through socialisation outside “education time”;
- Setup initiatives raising awareness about and support to inclusive education among parents of children with disabilities;
- Provide sufficient, relevant data on the number of students both in inclusive and segregated education disaggregated by impairment, age, sex and ethnic background, and further provide data on the outcome of the education reflecting the capabilities of the students.
On health, the committee recommended that UK government(s):
- Develop a targeted measurable and financed plan of action aiming at eliminating barriers in access to health care and services, monitor and measure its progress, especially in relation to persons with intellectual and/or psychosocial disabilities, and neurological and cognitive conditions;
- Set up protocols for medical services that respect the right to privacy in information about health of persons with disabilities;
- Ensure equal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, provide information and family planning education for persons with disabilities in accessible formats, including Easy Read;
- Ensure that medical professionals are under the obligation to enforce standards set up in guidance and criteria on ‘Do Not Resucitate’ orders on an equal basis with others; and
- Address the high suicide rate among persons with disabilities, especially persons with intellectual and/or psychosocial disabilities.
Cultural & sporting life
Among other recommendations, the UK should adopt a resourced plan to implement laws and standards for accessible and inclusive participation for all sports facilities, the heritage and UNESCO appointed environments.
Adequate standard of living and social protection
- Introduce, adopt and implement legislative frameworks to ensure that social protection policies and programmes secure income levels for all persons with disabilities and their families, by taking into account the additional costs related to disability, and ensuring the possibility of persons with disabilities to exercise their parental responsibilities. Those in the new Employment and Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group should have access to full compensation of disability-related costs.
- Carry out a cumulative impact assessment, with disaggregated data, about the recent and coming reforms on the social protection for persons with disabilities
- Repeal the Personal Independent Payment (Amendment) Regulations of 2017 and ensure that eligibility criteria and assessments to access Personal Independent Payments, the Employment Support Allowance, and the Universal Credit are in line with the human rights model of disability
- Ensure sufficient budget allocation for local authorities to accomplish their responsibilities regarding assistance for persons with disabilities, and extend support packages to mitigate negative impacts of the social security reform in Northern Ireland; and
- Conduct a review of the conditionality and sanction regimes concerning the Employment and Support Allowance, and tackle negative consequences on mental health and situation of persons with disabilities.
Today the UN(CRPD) Committee has, once again, condemned the UK Government’s record on Disabled People’s human rights. They have validated the desperation, frustration and outrage experienced by Disabled people since austerity and welfare cuts began. It is no longer acceptable for the UK Government to ignore the strong and united message of the disability community.
UK Government representatives committed during the review to rethinking the way they support Disabled people to monitor our rights. We welcome this commitment. However, we are clear that our involvement must be genuine and inclusive and that we cannot accept anything less than progress on delivering the human rights enshrined in the Convention, and denied us for too long. UK Delegation of Disabled People’s Organisations
Will the government listen and act? Will this public spanking have any effect? We await their response but these findings are clear: while this government trumpets how much it's doing for disabled adults and children, the truth is very different, very bleak and utterly depressing. We can but hope that they will respond positively and without measly words. What do you think?
Read all the documents from this
- 1The human rights model of disability: Degener, Theresia. (2014). A human rights model of disability. Routledge Handbook of Disability Law and Human Rights.
- All documents on UNCRPD for UK
- Concluding Document
- EXCLUSIVE: DfE answers further questions on “targets” for EHCP cuts, removing children from specialist provision and plans to boost SEND in schools - October 2, 2023
- Dame Christine Lenehan: a career advocating for disabled children’s rights - September 27, 2023
- SEND Minister denies the Government is aiming to cut EHCPs by 20% with an emphatic, but unconvincing, explanation - September 22, 2023