Debbie Abrahams: With the UN talking about the “human catastrophe” of Tory disability cuts, we need immediate action

Debbie Abrahams

It has never been clearer that Tory austerity policies are having an adverse effect on disabled people in our society. This week the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has held a session in Geneva to further examine the government’s failure to protect and promote disability rights.

The committee previously concluded that government cuts disproportionally impacted disabled people and amounted to “grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities”.

Shamefully for this government, Britain is the first and so far only country to be investigated by the UN for breaching the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Even worse, they chose to ignore the recommendations from the UN CRPD report, evading their responsibility towards disabled people in our country.

The UN’s report showed that the austerity policies brought in by the government in 2010 to reduce public spending, such as the destructive bedroom tax and the damaging cuts to social security and social care budgets are infringing on the rights of disabled people.

The report confirmed what Labour has been warning all along; despite Theresa May’s warm words on the steps of Downing Street, promising a fair deal for all in our society, this Conservative government has consistently failing sick and disabled people. And what do they do in response? They dismissed the report and refused to take action.

It is disappointing, but not all that surprising, to see the government continue to dodge their responsibilities. It is a slap in the face to deaf and disabled peoples’ organisations who have been campaigning tirelessly to bring to light the human rights violations disabled people across the country experience daily.

This week, once again we saw the British government obfuscate and dodge key questions from the committee covering all articles in the convention. The UK was repeatedly told by the committee that it was not a global leader on disability rights and the Chair stated that cuts to social protection in Britain were “a human catastrophe” visited on disabled people.

Britain’s human rights watchdog stated that the examination by the UN had seen a “disconnect” between the government’s replies and the “lived experiences of disabled people”.

In conclusion, the Rapporteur stated that he could “provide a long list of examples where UK doesn’t live up to the Convention, but the time does not allow” and the committee was “deeply concerned about the lack of recognition of the findings and recommendations of the conducted inquiry”.

Once again the government has failed to listen to deaf and disabled people or act on the warnings that I and many others have repeatedly made about the impact of their policies on disabled people. Deaf and disabled people are tired of broken promises, they desperately need to be treated with respect and dignity not plunged into poverty or worse.

Our approach is different. Labour has committed to scrapping current disability health assessments, replacing them with a holistic, person-centred approach, based on principles of dignity and inclusion. We will also build on the previous Labour government’s commitment to disabled people in 2009 as signatories to the UN CRPD and incorporate the UN CRPD fully into UK law – a move rejected by the government delegation in Geneva this week.

We believe, like the NHS, our social security system is based on principles of inclusion, support and security for all. This assures us of our dignity, should we fall on hard times or become incapacitated. Nine-tenths of disabilities are acquired – it could happen to anyone of us. I don’t want people who have paid into the system all their life to be made to feel worthless and dehumanised by a state that should be there to support them. We will continue to promote equality of opportunity for all in our society.

The government must now act upon the concluding observations which will come from the committee and on the recommendations of last year’s report. For too long disabled people have been excluded from society, it’s time that changed.

Debbie Abrahams is shadow secretary of state for work and pensions & MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth

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