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UN Criticizes UK for Creating 'Human Catastrophe' Over Disability

  • Published: 2017-08-30 (Revised/Updated 2018-03-15) : Author: Paul Dodenhoff
  • Synopsis: Article by Paul Dodenhoff examines the investigation concerning UK's continuing violation of the UN Convention on the human rights of disabled people.

Quote: "It seems rather laughable that in the modern age, politicians could fear its own population in such an out-dated and highly prejudiced manner."

Main Document

In the latest session of the investigation concerning the UK's continuing violation of the UN Convention on the human rights of disabled people, Theresia Degener, chairwoman the UN's Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), accused British politicians of failing its most vulnerable members of society. Degener reported that cuts to social services had 'totally neglected' the needs of disabled people and had created a 'human catastrophe'. Summing up the session from the chair, Ms Degener made clear the impact of the UK Governments austerity policies upon disabled people, while also criticising UK officials for misrepresenting the impact of those policies, misusing statistics and policy statements - as well as failing to answer questions.

In the past, the CRPD had already criticized the UK's welfare reforms for leading to the 'grave and systematic violations' of disabled people's rights. In addition, Stig Langvad, the committee rapporteur for the UK, said he was 'deeply concerned' about the Government's failure to act on the CRPD's previous report(s). Plus concern over a very real disconnect between what the UK Government is presenting to the committee, compared to the evidence of the actual day-to-day experiences of disabled people themselves.

A deliberate act of hostility and 'violence' towards disability?

Anybody who has read any of my previous criticisms of the UK's approach to disability from around 2008 onwards, will know that I have often accused Government of 'deliberate' and 'intentional' acts of hostility towards disabled people. Deliberate acts of 'oppression' and 'domination' that are designed to roll back the equality gains that disabled people have clawed back for themselves and fought for over the years. The motivator(s) of this insidious exercise are based within the rather simplistic ideologies that emanate from around the 1700's, of a deep-rooted and continuing 'establishment' fear that people are faking sickness or disability in order to obtain 'economic' support. Help that now comes primarily from the state.

It seems rather laughable that in the modern age, politicians could fear its own population in such an out-dated and highly prejudiced manner. But read through any of today's political literature, particularly of a 'Conservative' nature, and compare it to the 1700's, 1800's and the 1900's - and you will find very little difference in the way poverty and the deviancy of the poor is perceived. If you are poor, it is your own fault, while charity and state welfare only encourage dependency, eroding the work ethic itself. The logic of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is solely based upon the widespread fear that people are indeed faking their inability to work, or at least could do much more than they say they can. In the test, a 'medical' assessor gives the Department of Works and Pension (DWP) a description of the claimant's disabilities and a recommendation on their work capability, after which the claimant is put into one of three categories:

  1. Fit for work.
  2. Unfit for work but fit for work-related activity.
  3. Unfit for both work and work-related activity.

It was clear from day one that the test was very much aimed at getting as many sick and disabled people as possible off the benefit system. Today, it is argued by sick and disabled people themselves that the target is primarily set at category 1. If you are looking for a miracle-cure, don't fly off to Lourdes, just book yourself a WCA. Hence the human catastrophe that the UN has highlighted.

Reclassifying disabled people as the undeserving poor.

The UK has differentiated between the 'deserving' poor and the 'undeserving' poor for hundreds of years. Traditionally, the 'deserving' have been perceived as those in need who are unable to work because they are too old, too disabled or too sick. The 'undeserving' are those who simply don't want to work. Until the 1900's government made provision for the deserving poor in the 'poor houses' and 'work houses' funded through local taxes. These places were deliberately made so horrible, that the horrendous conditions deterred all but the most desperate. The thinking then (as today) is that the incentive of work should not be undermined by either state help or charity. Consequently, the deserving poor were to be kept in a much more miserable state than even the lowliest worker. An argued necessity, in order to preserve the work ethic by acting as a deterrent to deviancy.

The distinctions between the deserving and undeserving poor are therefore reflected in the differences in the treatment of British welfare claimants, both hundreds of years ago - and today. However, disabled people have arguably also been re-defined, from a group that fell primarily into the deserving (if inferior) poor, into a social group that is now considered to consist primarily of fakers and scroungers. A group of people that have to be assessed and re-assessed by an aggressive and humiliating 'jump-through-the-hoops' test, in order to double and treble check that people who have already been medically assessed and defined as sick or disabled, are not cheating the system.

But rather than cheating the system, the system itself is being rigged by the state in order to deny as many sick and disabled people as possible from claiming welfare. Earlier this year, a DWP response to a Freedom of Information request revealed that it indeed 'sets' targets in order to motivate the refusal of more than 80% of benefit claims - a mandatory key performance indicator (KPI) applied to DWP employees. Something insidious on its own, but we also need to be clear of what the consequences of such actions are - the human catastrophe that the UN has recently denounced.

But it's a catastrophe that has not seemingly occurred through chance, bad design or bad luck, but through a deliberate, systematic and shameful act aimed simply at bolstering or re-establishing the work ethic - and primarily by making scape-goats or examples out of disabled people. Certainly, there is nothing wrong about wanting to get more disabled people into employment, and disability organisations, charities and activists share the same ambition. However, government is arguably acting counterproductively, driving forward something that is simply a punitive agenda of sanctions and funding cuts. Or a policy of 'sink or swim', as I've arguing for the past number of years.

The UK Government tends to make a very big noise over more disabled people being within employment today, then compared to a number of years ago. But if we take a closer look at these claims, we find many disabled people simply living a hand-to-mouth existence, either on a minimum wage, working part-time or on zero-hours contracts. And if we look at intellectual disabilities in particular, according to figures compiled by Mencap, only 5.8% of people with a learning disability are actually in employment. A figure that has actually fallen over the years.

My own research has highlighted to me at least, that disabled people are still perceived as being unproductive in the workplace, economically dependent upon others, and generally troublesome to employ or even associate with. If we really want to get more disabled people into employment, it is the attitudes of the able-bodied we arguably need to change. Those attitudes will not be changed by a British Government that does not actually trust disabled people to be anything else but fakers and scroungers.

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