Welfare Reforms and United Nations Report: Grave and Systematic Violations of Human Rights by UK Government
This is a video of the Inclusion Scotland launching their alternative report on the ‘Implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Great Britain. This work has been led by Inclusion Scotland, Disability Rights UK and Disability Wales gathering together information and evidence to be presented at the United Nations council in Geneva.
At the end of 2016 the United Nations published its inquiry into UK ‘grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights’. The UN Committee is entitled to investigate a State Party if they have received reliable evidence of ‘grave and systematic violations of the Convention’. The UK is the first country to be investigated by the UN in relation to this Convention.
The report, published on 6 October 2016, found that the reforms have led to ‘grave and systematic’ violations of the rights of disabled people, emphasising changes to Housing Benefit entitlement, eligibility criteria for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and social care, and the ending of the Independent Living Fund. Specifically, the Committee looked into any violations of the rights of disabled people under the Convention, to:
- live independently and to be included in the community (article 19);
- an adequate standard of living and social protection (article 28); and
- work and employment (article 27)
People with disabilities are losing social care through the welfare cuts which are being made. As well as this, in the transition to Personal Independence Payments, Inclusion Scotland are seeing a lot of people having their payments either reduced or stopped for ensuring that disabled people can access to the goods and services they need to live independent lives. These payments amount to an individual’s ability to live a life that is included in the community.
In the report Inclusion Scotland has been clear that disabled people’s standard of living and their health has been severely, unfairly and avoidably impacted as a result of welfare reform policies. These have brought about circumstances which threaten, and in some cases, end people’s lives. There has been a departure from a system with caring values and that the rethink that the Scottish government is engaging in provides optimism if it has respect and dignity at its core.
The report talks about the inadequacy of transport and housing for those with disabilities, which remains as an ongoing issue. There are currently 201,000 households in Scotland which cannot access essential facilities in their own home. There is also a lack of consultation with disabled people when public spaces are being designed which leads to accessibility issues later on.
Inclusion Scotland has written the report in order to influence the actions which the Scottish government will take. The government signed up to the convention in 2009 which means that the performance of that government in living up to its commitments is reviewed by the United Nations committee every four years.
During these reviews the government is asked to report on how it is upholding and advancing the rights in the convention. Alongside this, disabled people are asked to report on how things are going. The UK and Scottish government is now up for review and disabled people have submitted their reports in Geneva.
Benefits and welfare have become words laden with baggage. Through the mismanagement of the economy in terms of failure to regulate banks and financial practices along with the undermining of the national ability to collect tax due from major companies, the call of austerity has been used as a political smokescreen to rouse anxiety and galvanise wedge voting.
Benefits and welfare instead of being perceived as supplementary income to those most in need in a monopolized landscape have become the hunting cry of the uber-enfranchised crying scroungers and lay abouts.
The press and media has been complicit in the demonisation of people who receive benefit supplements producing such noxious materials such as Benefits Street and inventing a subgenre of reality television which has commonly become known as Benefits porn. This exploitation of the disadvantage of people is a dark shadow which takes airtime from real journalism and sociological documentation that facilitates democracy and a functioning set of policies being brought to the fore.
It seems that the kind of black hat rhetoric which drives the current attack on welfare and social supports of all kinds has as its bottom line something other than cost saving – an ideological basis.
Britain’s welfare system is widely misrepresented and through that, misunderstood. A common misconception which has been deliberately propagated is that the main part of what it does consist of hand outs to unemployed people. As well as this the picture is painted that those who receive benefits are in main an unchanging group that are separate and distinct from those who pay for it.
Professor John Hills contends that these are myths and problematic ones. Teaching Social Policy as Co-Director of the International Inequalities Institute at the London School of Economics. Having collected data and reviewed the realities and issues around welfare spending over a number of years he has just published a revised edition of ‘Good Times: Bad Times; The welfare myth of them and us’.
The myths which are wheeled out have significant consequences on people’s lives on those who suffer from the cuts which come under the guise of benefits reforms. When the proposed cuts are being made in the name of making savings from what is only a mall fraction of what is really spent it is interesting to note that these actions are being implemented by private, profit driven companies such as Maximus.
The misrepresentations of the welfare state and how it is being abused is bringing about much social harm. These myths disrupt the way that the welfare state is run directly impacting those who are in or on the margins of poverty at any given point.
Prof Hills points out that the actual fraud of Jobseeker’s Allowance may be less than one thousandth of all spending on social security according to official analysis. However, if it is communicated to be over a tenth of the total then the result is that people make reactive demands to the political system to clamp down. People are caught in the latent inference of fraud.
From each year 1998 through to 2008, there were between 200,000 and 300,000 ‘sanctions’ imposed on people getting Jobseeker’s Allowance and what’s now called Employment and Support Allowance for sick and disabled people. These sanctions were issued on people who were perceived to be failing to meet conditions such as seeking work rigorously enough or attending enough interviews.
A sanction results in a cut to the amount of money being given to the person to super sub-sufficiency levels considering that the money people get on benefits is marginal in the first place.
By Autumn of 2013, the monthly rate at which Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants were being sanctioned had reached 6 per cent every month. This compared to under 2.5 percent in the decade up to 2007. More than half a million people in receipt of benefits had been affected.
What is revealing is that where people took the decision to appeal against the sanction, the majority of the decisions were upheld. Mathew Oakley was enlisted to perform an independent review of procedures prompted by the level of public concern in the “Independent review of the operation of Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions validated by the Jobseekers Act 2013”
Following his recommendations, the rate of sanctioning was cut back, and by spring 2015 it had fallen back to rates more like those before 2010.
In a YouGov survey which was taken at the end of 2012 people were told that “the government’s welfare budget pays for pensions, tax credits, benefits for the unemployed, the disabled and other groups”. They were then asked, “Out of every £100 of this welfare budget, how much do you think is spent on benefits for unemployed people?”
50% of people answered that 40% or more of spending was on unemployment benefits. 25% of people thought it was more than 60% . The average perception was 41% of expenditure was laid out on unemployment benefits. At the time of asking, unemployment benefits represented in fact only 4% of spending and is now only 2% of the total welfare budget.
This unbalanced perception of unemployment benefits is not a new thing. Perhaps it is because the unemployed are used as an emotive fulcrum in the media more than other segments. It is an easy thing to create a scapegoat and wish all the ills of the land onto them to cleanse the rest of society. Support for benefits cuts seems to rely on ignorance and misinformation and the most vulnerable seem to be the most affected by the draconian measures.