Rights of disabled people may be at risk, says Human Rights Committee
The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) recently published its Report on the implementation of the right of disabled people to independent living in the context of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which was ratified by the UK in 2009.
The Report draws attention to a number of significant human rights issues, including:
- the need for freestanding legislation to protect the right to independent living in UK law
- the effect of current reforms to benefits and services on the ability of disabled people to enjoy independent living
- the role played by the UNCRPD in policy development and decision making at all levels of government
- the use of equality impact assessments
- the effects of devolution on implementation of the UNCRPD
- hate crime
The right to independent living does not exist as a freestanding right in UK law. Although it is protected and promoted to some extent by a matrix of rights, the Committee believes that this is not enough. It argues that the Government and other interested parties should immediately assess the need for, and feasibility of, legislation to establish independent living as a freestanding right. In addition, the Committee concludes that the UNCRPD is hard law, not soft law, and that the Government should fulfil their obligations under the Convention on that basis, and counter any public perception that it is soft law.
The Committee finds that:
- reforms to benefits and services risk leaving disabled people without the support they need to live independently
- restrictions in local authority eligibility criteria for social care support, the replacement of the Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payment, the closure of the Independent Living Fund and changes to housing benefit risk interacting in a particularly harmful way for disabled people
- some people fear that the cumulative impact of these changes will force them out of their homes and local communities and into residential care
It also finds that:
- the Government had not conducted an assessment of the cumulative impact of current reforms on disabled people. The Report urges them do so, and to report on the extent to which these reforms are enabling them and local authorities to comply with their obligations under the UNCRPD
- the UNCRPD did not appear to have played a significant role in the development of policy and legislation, as is required by the Convention. The Committee therefore argues that the Government should make a commitment to Parliament that they will give due consideration to the articles of the Convention when making legislation
Further, the Committee deprecates changes to the duties of public authorities in England under the Equality Act 2010, which no longer require the production of equality impact assessments of changes in policy, nor the involvement of disabled people in developing policies which will affect them.
The Committee finds variations in the manner in which the devolved administrations have implemented the Convention, and uncertainty as to the role the UK Government should play in ensuring implementation. The Report notes with disappointment the lack of a strategy in Northern Ireland to promote independent living and reminds the UK Government to acknowledge their responsibility to ensure implementation.
The Committee also considers a range of other issues relating to independent living. It recommends that the Government should take further action to ensure that assessments for care needs are portable across the country in order to ensure disabled people’s right to choose their place of residence. It also expresses concern over a growing incidence of hate crime against disabled people and urges the Government take action to foster respect for the rights and dignity of disabled people.
Dr Hywel Francis MP, Chair of the Committee, said:
“We are concerned to learn that the right of disabled people to independent living may be at risk through the cumulative impact of current reforms. Even though the UK ratified the UNCPRD in 2009 with cross-party support, the Government is unable to demonstrate that sufficient regard has been paid to the Convention in the development of policy with direct relevance to the lives of disabled people. The right to independent living in UK law may need to be strengthened further, and we call on the Government and other interested organisations to consider the need for a freestanding right to independent living in UK law.
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