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Tuesday, 08 November 2016

'Grave violations' of rights of UK disabled people after welfare cuts, scathing UN report

Written by The Press Association

Welfare cuts have resulted in "grave or systematic violations" of the rights of disabled people in the UK, a United Nations inquiry has found.

The scathing report by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on measures to curb the benefits bill found they had "disproportionately" hit disabled people.

The Government disputed the findings by the Geneva-based body, insisting it was based on an "outdated view of disability" and insisting the UK was a "world leader in disabled rights and equality".

But Labour said the report confirmed that ministers were "failing sick and disabled people".

The CRPD report said the "interaction of various reforms on welfare schemes", including changes in housing benefits, the cap on household benefits, changes in eligibility criteria for the "moving around" component under the Personal Independence Payment, tightening of criteria to access social care and the closure of the Independent Living Fund, had "disproportionately affected persons with disabilities and hindered various aspects of their right to live independently and be included in the community".

The committee also criticised the so-called "bedroom tax" - the removal of what ministers term the "spare room subsidy" for housing benefit claimants in social housing with an extra bedroom.

Together with the cap on household benefits and changes to local housing allowances, the measures had "curtailed the right of persons with disabilities to choose a place of residence".

"The committee notes that, in multiple cases, social housing size criteria failed to recognise the specific living arrangements that persons with disabilities require in connection with their impairment and respect of their autonomy, will and preferences," the report said.

"The committee observes that measures have caused financial hardship to persons with disabilities resulting in ... arrears, debts, evictions and cuts to essentials such as housing and food."

In its conclusion, the CPRD said: "The committee considers that there is reliable evidence that the threshold of grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities has been met in the state party (the UK)."

The report also criticised a negative attitude towards welfare claimants: "Persons with disabilities have been regularly portrayed negatively as being dependent or making a living out of benefits, committing fraud as benefit claimants, being lazy and putting a burden on taxpayers, who are paying 'money for nothing'.

"Although the state party produced evidence of formal efforts and public awareness campaigns to improve the image of persons with disabilities, the inquiry collected evidence that persons with disabilities continue to experience increasing hostility, aggressive behaviour and sometimes attacks to their personal integrity.

"The inquiry also found no substantiation of the alleged benefit fraud by persons with disabilities."

The committee recommended a cumulative impact assessment of the reforms introduced since 2010 and measures aimed at combating "negative and discriminatory stereotypes" in the public and media.

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green rejected the report's findings and insisted the Government was committed to helping those who can work find jobs while offering care to those who cannot.

"At the heart of this report lies an outdated view of disability which is patronising and offensive. We strongly refute its findings," he said.

"The UN measures success as the amount of money poured into the system, rather than the work and health outcomes for disabled people. Our focus is on helping disabled people find and stay in work, whilst taking care of those who can't.

"The UK is a recognised world leader in disabled rights and equality. Not only do we spend around £50 billion a year to support sick and disabled people - more of our GDP than countries including Canada, France and the USA - but we also offer a wide range of tailored and effective support, which this report fails to recognise.

"Our Work and Health Green Paper marks a turning point in our action to confront the attitudes, prejudices and misunderstandings within the minds of employers and across wider society."

Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams said: "The UN report confirms that, despite Theresa May's warm words, this Government is failing sick and disabled people."

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