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UK governments are failing disabled people

Polly Lord, Director of Engagement and Influencing 17 August 2023

VoiceAbility’s Polly Lord reflects on the report launched today into the rights of disabled people in the UK.

Warning – this post references suicide.

In 2016, the United Nations published its inquiry into the state of rights for disabled people. 

Spoiler: it didn’t think the UK was doing a very good job.

Fast forward seven years, and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), in collaboration with the other UK equality bodies and national human rights institutions, has reviewed the UK’s progress against the recommendations of the Committee for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

Spoiler: it still doesn’t think the UK is doing a very good job.

The systems for supporting people – through welfare and social care – are broken. We see that every day. It’s why VoiceAbility exists: to empower people to have control and voice in the decisions which impact them by supporting them to navigate the complexity.

Where benefits support people, take up is inconsistent’.

Drawing on evidence from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the report said:

A lack of awareness about people’s entitlement to disability assistance and a general distrust in the social security system coupled with the complexity of eligibility criteria may discourage people from applying for benefits they are entitled to and lead to underclaiming.”

It seems an accepted societal pattern – as emphasised in the report – that rights are only upheld by those who fight for them, and even then, they might not succeed. 

And while the abstract language of rights’ can distract, in reality, it means people not having enough money through the benefits system to eat or heat their homes. 

It means people suffering psychological harm from the eligibility assessments that governments use. 

And it means people dying – including ending their own life – because of their interaction with the system.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Our work in Scotland, referenced in the report, shows that independent advocacy can support people to access the benefits they’re entitled to. But even the Scottish system is challenging, with instances of declined applications and agencies refusing to deal with disabled people’s representatives noted. 

As Gordon’s story shows, there are still significant barriers to accessing the welfare system even when advocates are involved: “I’m lucky, I wasn’t on my own:” Gordon’s experience of applying for Scottish benefits

For people in England and Wales, the situation is even worse.

We’re proud of our work in supporting people like Gordon. 

We know we can and should do more. 

If only the UK’s governments had the same ambition. 

Disabled people cannot wait another seven years for them to embrace real, systemic change.

The Committee for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is an independent body which monitors compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The Committee published its inquiry into the rights of disabled people in the UK in 2016.

UKIM consists of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI), the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) and the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC)

Read UKIM’s report on UK’s governments’ progress with implementation of the Committee’s recommendations, published today: 

UK Independent Mechanism: Seven Years On: disabled people’s rights to independent living, employment and standard of living in the UK