UK Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights launches Report on Article 19 UNCRPD

We are delighted  to welcome this guest post by Neil Crowther a leading disability rights and equality advocate.  Neil an independent consultant and writes in a personal capacity. He was previously Director of Human Rights at Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) where he led the development and implementation of its domestic and international human rights programme.  Prior to his role as Director of the EHRC Neil led the Commission’s disability rights programme.  

In a world-first, the UK’s Parliament has conducted an Inquiry into the UK Government’s implementation of Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – the right to live independently and to be included in the community.   I was honoured to work as a specialist adviser on the Inquiry of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights which began in 2011 and received evidence from over 300 witnesses.  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.” 

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

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. 

Neil will write more about the issues raised by the Inquiry and about other work he has been involved in on Article 19 and the Convention more generally in a separate blog.

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