Social Justice

UK 'no longer a leader in disability rights' as UN finds Tory policy has led to 'hate'

Following a UN committee warning that the UK government has 'undermined' the rights of disabled people, charities call for change

united nations/ disability rights

The UK government faced the committee at the United Nations in Geneva. Image: Unsplash

The UK can “no longer claim to be a leader in disability rights” after a United Nations committee found that government policy has “undermined the human dignity” of disabled people, charities have said.

Delegates from the UK government faced the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) on Monday (18 March) over claims of “grave” and “systemic” violations of disabled people’s rights.

The Big Issue has reported on the committee’s arguments that disabled people in the UK are “demonised” by the government and face a “traumatising benefits system”. In some cases, it claimed, policy has led to deaths of disabled people.

Alexandra Gowlland, the deputy director of the Disability Unit in the Cabinet Office, said: “Our goal to reduce the disability employment gap remains. We will continue to galvanise action to ensure that we are ambitious about the employment of disabled people to start, stay and succeed in work.”

She added that the benefits system is “committed to transforming the benefits system for the future so it focuses on what people can do rather than what they cannot”.

Rosemary Kayess, the chair of the UNCRPD, responded: “Reforms within social welfare benefits are premised on a notion that disabled people are undeserving and skiving off and defrauding the system. This has resulted in hate speech and hostility towards disabled people.”

Disabled people’s organisations welcomed how the committee held the government to account.

Kamran Mallick, the chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “Although we are not surprised by the UK government’s response today, we still feel that their refusal to properly engage with this process is an insult to all disabled people whose experiences are reflected in the evidence we’ve provided to the UN.

“Despite requesting a delay last year, they have provided us with no new evidence – instead signposting to plans and policies that create no transformative change. The delegation shared all the ways they believe they’ve created progress for disabled people’s rights – but they know, just as we do, that no progress has been made. In fact, we have gone backwards.”

The government cited planned reforms to “drive progress” – including in the Disability Action Plan and the Health and Disability White Paper. But charities, campaigners and MPs have warned that the proposals will not go far enough.

Mallick added: “Accessing our basic support is not a luxury – whether that be getting a GP appointment on the day that you call, or having a social security system that works for all of us. Just because our government refuses to take responsibility on their failure to deliver this, that doesn’t mean that it’s not unacceptable.

“The world is watching, and the UK government can no longer claim to be a leader in disability rights. We will continue to challenge these rights violations and ask that you join us by writing to your MP and supporting the Disabled People’s Manifesto.

Disabled people’s organisations gathered in Manchester in September to develop the manifesto which sets out demands for the next government to take “fundamental and radical action to address the deep-seated inequalities faced by millions of disabled people”.



Ahead of a general election, disability charities and campaigners are demanding change.

Tom Marsland, policy manager at Sense, said: “The government’s recent track record on supporting disabled people – including through the benefits system – leaves a lot to be desired. We hear from people day in, day out, who are feeling the force of rising bills, benefits that barely cover the basics, and government decisions that have hindered, rather than helped, their lives.

“Now, instead of taking meaningful steps to improve disabled people’s lives, the government has chosen to drill down on its dangerous rhetoric on disabled people and benefits, with the prime minister recently stating his intention to squeeze benefits to fund tax cuts. 

“We think it’s right that the government is held accountable, and hope this will encourage more imaginative, courageous policy decisions that aim to support disabled people and remove the many barriers they face.”

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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