UN report finds UK disability benefit reforms "violate human rights"

The investigation drew a link between welfare reform and the scapegoating of people with disabilities. 

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

The government's welfare reforms show "grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities", according to a UN report.

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities painted a picture of a benefits system with a blunt mandate to get claimants back into work, but with little consideration of human rights. 

Instead, people with disabilities have found their living conditions deteriorate due to a toxic cocktail of cuts to housing benefit, tightened budgets for local services, and blunt assessments that do not take into account complex needs. The Bedroom Tax also made it harder to find suitable accommodation. 

But perhaps the most damning part of the report is the change in culture it observes.

Because disabled people are more likely to rely on some form of welfare support, they are also more likely to be a target of scapegoating, it noted.

As the government rolled out its welfare reforms, "high-ranking officers" issued statements telling the public the changes were supposed to make the welfare system fairer to taxpayers and reduce benefit fraud.

The report continued: 

Persons with disabilities have been regularly portrayed negatively as being dependent or making a living out of benefits, committing fraud as benefit claimants, being lazy and putting a burden on taxpayers, who are paying “money for nothing”. 

Its inquiry uncovered evidence that people with disabilities experience increasing hostility, aggressive behaviour and attacks. This was despite the fact there was nothing to suggest people with disabilities were any more likely to commit benefit fraud.

In response to the criticism, the government pointed to its campaigners to improve public awareness. But the UN committee is unconvinced.

It concluded that the government could have foreseen that its welfare reforms would have a negative impact on people with disabilities. But instead, those claimants undergoing assessments "felt that they were merely processed rather than being listened to or understood".  

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.