As part of March for Human Rights, Liz Sayce, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, marks the UK government’s signing of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which took place ten years ago.

The March for Rights campaign celebrates our existing human rights protections in the UK. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities sets down important international standards, and can be used as a framework to influence policy and practice locally and nationally. Courts are also able to consider UN Convention rights in their work, such as when people take a case through the Human Rights Act.

It is ten years since the UK Government signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Former Minister for Disabled People Dame Anne McGuire has given us her view of progress since then:   

‘It was my privilege to sign the Convention at the special meeting of the General Assembly of the UN in New York. There was an air of optimism at that time and the ratification…was widely seen as yet another step towards equality for disabled people in this country.  However, a great deal of that optimism has disappeared over the years’.

On March 13th 2017 a group of Disabled People’s Organisations travelled from the UK to Geneva to give evidence to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We all agreed on the most important human rights challenges to present to the Committee. 

Amongst the organisations in Geneva were Disability Rights UK, Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales; and together we wrote a GB report, designed to revive progress and – we hope – some optimism. The report is based on 18 events with disabled people around Britain, attended by hundreds of disabled people, plus hundreds more sharing experiences online.

Just a few of the issues we covered were:

  • Rights to be included in the community. Social care on your own terms can transform your life – enabling you to do the things that matter most to you, with support where needed. But for some, social care cuts are causing social isolation and fear of going back into residential or nursing care. Whereas closing a day centre is highly visible and attracts protests, cuts to personal budgets damage people’s lives behind closed doors. What’s more, some disabled people told us they have no choice about fundamental issues like who they live with:

‘I and many people with learning difficulties are forced to live with people we don’t choose to live with’

‘That happens to us, people with dementia, too’

- Comments at DR UK annual conference, November 2016

  • Rights to an adequate income. Of all people living in poverty in the UK, almost half (48%) are either disabled themselves or are living with someone disabled in their household.

‘There is little doubt that disabled people have borne a disproportionate share of the Government’s austerity measures and this flies in the face of any concept of fairness and social justice’

- Sir Bert Massie, former Chair, Disability Rights Commission

  • Rights to education and work. Numbers of children enjoying inclusive education in mainstream state-funded schools are going down, the disability employment gap seems stuck at just over 30% and there is a persistent disability pay gap: on average disabled people earn nearly a pound an hour less than non-disabled people
  • Rights to equal recognition before the law and to liberty. Our mental capacity and mental health laws do not comply with the UN Convention - and compulsory detention and forced treatment are rising rapidly. Compulsory detention was used over 62,000 times in 2015-16, up by almost 20,000 in a decade. Restraint, seclusion and inappropriate use of psychiatric medication remain far too common.

If our human rights were better realised in practice, disabled people could participate fully in society – in families, communities, schools, colleges, workplaces: in short, everywhere. This would benefit the whole of society.

Organisations of disabled people are uniting: we identified a common set of issues that need to be addressed. Some will need long-term strategies, others could be addressed more quickly: for instance, the Law Commission has proposed changes to Deprivation of Liberty Standards, which they – and we – see as ‘unfit for purpose’. They could be replaced.

Baroness Jane Campbell has noted that if the UK wants to maintain the mantle of world leader on disability rights, it must see the forthcoming examination by the UN Committee as an opportunity to listen and take stock.

We hope that everyone with a commitment to human rights will unite with Disabled People’s Organisations to show how progress could be made to live up to the promise of the UN Convention, as the UN Committee examines the UK in the Summer of 2017.