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Section 1 of the paper provides key statistics on disability in the UK. Section 2 of the paper explains how the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is applied and monitored in the UK. Section 3 considers evidence of the impact of measures introduced during the period of the coronavirus pandemic on disabled people in the UK. A summary of the UN Committee’s 2016 findings and reactions can be found in Section 4. Section 5 focuses on the specific findings of the 2016 investigation.  Section 6 summarises UK and Devolved Government strategies for persons with disabilities. Section 7 covers Human Rights Commission reports on progress since 2016.

UN Committee investigation, 2016

In 2016 the UK was investigated under the Optional Protocol of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) which the UK Government ratified in 2009. The Convention applies to all parts of the UK. An easy-read version of the Convention has been published with the title: International agreement on the rights of disabled people.

The 2016 investigation into the impact of UK Government policies on the rights of disabled people led the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to argue that “grave or systematic violations” of such rights had taken place. It said this was due to welfare reforms since 2010 “disproportionally and adversely” affecting the rights of people with disabilities, citing in particular changes to Housing Benefit entitlement, eligibility criteria for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and social care, and the ending of the Independent Living Fund.

Initial UK Government Reaction to the 2016 findings

The UK Government said it “strongly disagree[d]” with the conclusions reached in the report, stating that the investigation was “too narrow in scope” and that measures, such as personal budgets, improving transport accessibility, work-related support and protections to tax and pensions credits should have been taken into account.

Subsequent investigations and reports

The UN last examined how well the UK is implementing the treaty and published Concluding observations in October 2017 – this was the UK’s first periodic review since ratification in 2009. Prior to this, the UK Independent Mechanism (UKIM), which is constituted of the Human Rights Commissions of the UK and which is charged with monitoring implementation of the UN CRPD in the UK, submitted an updated report to the UN Committee (July 2017) which argued that the UK and Devolved Governments had taken insufficient action to implement earlier UN recommendations. The UN Committee requested information from the UK one year later covering the steps taken to implement several of its 2017 recommendations.

In its most recent report on progress (October 2018), the UKIM gave its assessment of the steps taken by the UK Governments to implement the Committee’s recommendations since August 2017.

The UKIM said that progress had been made in several areas, including the launch of an independent review into the Mental Health Act 1983, an increase in the number of disabled people in employment, and the announcement of a new Inter-Ministerial Group on Disability and Society. However, the UKIM remained “disappointed” that UK Governments had not developed a comprehensive UK-wide strategy demonstrating how the Committee’s 2017 recommendations will be implemented.

Further responses and future Government policy

A debate was held in Westminster Hall in June 2018 on the Government’s response to the Committee’s August 2017 recommendations. In September 2018 the UK Government issued Concluding observations on the initial report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: initial government response which detailed progress in the UK and highlighted funding for social care in England, the Access to Work Scheme, and benefits for people with disabilities and long term health conditions.

In June 2019, the UK Government launched a cross-Government approach to disability.

In October 2019 the UK Government issued a response to recommendation 74 of the Committee’s concluding observations on its 2017 review. This recommendation concerned the 2016 inquiry under the Optional Protocol and called on the UK Governments to initiate and follow-up on recommendations arising from that investigation and provide the Committee with information on progress every 12 months until the next periodic report takes place.

The intention is to respond to the Committee’s remaining concluding observations from the 2017 review during the next periodic review, which is due in 2023.

The Conservative Manifesto (December 2019) committed to introducing a National Strategy for Disabled People in 2020. Publication is now expected in Spring 2021.

Coronavirus and the rights of people with disabilities

Reports from the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Women and Equalities Committee assess the impact of coronavirus and legal changes during the pandemic on the rights of people with disabilities. The Oxford University Disability Law & Policy Project and the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights’ report, An Affront to Dignity, Inclusion and Equality (2 July 2020), argues that there has been a “failure of the government to implement properly its legal duties with respect to the rights of people with disabilities”.

The UK Government published guidance on Supporting disabled people through the pandemic (31 March 2020), which explains some of the changes under the Coronavirus Act 2020 and emphasises that equality laws continue to apply during the pandemic.

More information can be found in the Library briefing A disability-inclusive response to Covid-19 (October 2020), which was prepared for the Backbench Business Committee Debate in Westminster Hall which took place on 15 October 2020.

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