UNCRPD whitewashed by the BBC as disabled people speak out

  • Post last modified:March 21, 2024
  • Reading time:11 mins read

You may have missed it, but earlier this week the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) accused the UK government of causing the deaths of disabled people via its welfare system. The UNCRPD also said the government had “regressed” further from a previous damning report in 2016. This accused it of “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights.

If you had missed it, it’s because a lot of the corporate media failed to report on it. Or when they did, reports like the BBC‘s one whitewashed the UNCRPD’s conclusions. So, the Canary spoke with chronically ill and disabled people to get their verdicts on the UNCRPD’s horrific conclusions.

‘Demonisation’, ‘intolerable lives’, and ‘death’: all in a day’s work for the UK government

As the Canary previously reported, the Tory government was hauled in front of the UNCRPD on Monday 18 March. It was for it to give evidence about how it maintains human rights for chronically ill and disabled people in the UK. You can read our comprehensive analysis here.

Overall, the UK’s representative (a civil servant, not a government minister – but one with close links to the ruling Tory Party) claimed, as the Canary wrote:

that the evidence she gave demonstrated the government “ongoing commitment to support disabled people” and “implement the CRPD”

Of course, the evidence the UK government gave showed none of this. In response, the UNCRPD accused the UK government of numerous violations; at worst – causing the deaths of disabled people via the benefits system. One rapporteur said that the UK had “regressed” since the damning 2016 report, and:

We see a reform agenda that is framed in a political narrative that demonises disabled people including proposals to cut disability benefits to reward working people… that tells disabled people that they are underserving citizens… coupled with an onerous and complex social benefits system that is the basis for trauma and preventable mental distress.

Another commented that the UNCRPD had been passed evidence of:

disabled people facing intolerable situations, even, death, while trying to comply with the eligibility requirements of the UK government’s benefits regimes, work capability assessments, and programmes administering support… What we have heard suggest a significant and shameful gap between the [CRPD] requirements and the lived experience of disabled people.

Predictably, the UK government dismissed all of this; doing little more than to display contempt for chronically ill and disabled people – lying, gaslighting, and misrepresenting its way through the 90-minute hearing.

Where’s the outcry over the UNCRPD?

So, you’d think there’d be public uproar and wall-to-wall coverage of the fact the UN had found that the UK government’s adherence to international human rights had regressed further than it previously committing “grave” and “systematic” violations of them previously – something that seems almost incomprehensible.

Unfortunately there wasn’t. Articles in the Big Issue, Civil Service World, and the Mirror (the latter being two days after the meeting) did give fairly thorough accounts of what happened at the UNCRPD. Author and campaigner Dan White appeared on LBC. However, the BBC effectively watered-down what the rapporteurs said. For example, it:

  • Failed to mention the previous report’s verdict of “grave” and “systematic” human rights violations.
  • Did mention one rapporteur’s reference to the number of benefit assessment-related suicides, but not her mention of “deaths” due to overall welfare policies.
  • Failed to mention another rapporteur’s accusation that the government had a “political narrative” to “demonise” chronically ill and disabled people.

Moreover, the BBC‘s original headline for it’s article framed the UNCRPD as being in a “row” with the UK government. This is simply not the case: the UK government is breaching a convention it signed up to. That is not a row, as the BBC clearly realised, – changing the headline after publication.

Otherwise, as of Thursday 21 March at 4pm, that was all the media coverage there was. As Canary writer Steve Topple said on X:

Where’s the Guardian’s coverage? Maybe it’s too busy pushing junk science propaganda about people living with ME/CFS

So, the Canary spoke to individuals and organisations about the UNCRPD verdict. We wanted to know what it means to them and chronically ill and disabled communities more broadly. We’ll let their comments speak for themselves.

‘It’s not what the government said – it’s what it didn’t say’

Paula Peters is a disability rights activist from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC). She told the Canary:

The government didn’t send ministers to speak to the UN. It sent civil servants who no one had ever heard of.

The UK government delegation spent their allocated time not answering the UN rapporteurs questions and talking about the National Disability Strategy – of which the UK government do not know how much or how little it will cost – and the Disability Action Plan; a plan that is full of empty promises for disabled people.

When the UN rapporteurs raised that the welfare reforms are leading to deaths and 600 disabled people taking their own lives after a WCA assessment outcome, the rapporteurs were met with a wall of silence from the UK government.

The UN rapporteurs pointed questions and the raising of convention breaches were down to the tireless work of collecting damning evidence going back 14 years from many deaf and disabled organisations; charities, TUC, and trade unions – many of whom were represented in Geneva today.

In regards to the government responses – it’s not what they said, it’s what they didn’t say. Silence on benefit deaths and suicides of disabled people; silence on benefit sanctions; silence on the violation of human rights of disabled people.

Well, we will not be silent. We will continue to speak out, campaign, and find every way to hold this government to account for their human rights abuses and the tragic human cost of many lives lost as a result of 14 years of austerity policy and horrendous decisions made during the Covid pandemic.

Our quest for justice continues and will not stop until we have reached into every dark corner of UK government administration and bring them to justice.

‘We’ve never been more at risk from a genocidal government’

The Harmony Party is a radical socialist party, founded by a disabled person. It said in a statement that:

The disabled genocide driven initially in large part by austerity was intensified by the cost of living crisis. Hundreds of thousands of social murders lay at the door of the British government…

There are so many questions that need answering, and the government consistently does not turn up and does not answer questions when it does. Yesterday’s hearing was no exception. We think it is shameful they were not required to answer all questions at the hearing.

Instead, they have been allowed to avoid shame on questions of their choosing – by being allowed to instead submit written answers within 24 hours.

Disabled people’s human rights have been repeatedly violated – during the pandemic, via a weaponised benefits system that normalises poverty and criminalises need, through the violence of social care debt, and poverty that has murdered more than 300,000 disabled people…

1,000,000 sanctions against impoverished disabled benefits claimants. 166,000 disabled and disabled elders in debt due to the costs of social care. 66,000 facing the violence of debt collection due to those social care debts…

The [UNCRPD] hearing… changed nothing for disabled people in the UK at a time when our rights and lives have never been more at risk from a genocidal government – and the genocidal government in waiting looks no better.

The UNCRPD: ‘rendered pointless’

Nicola Jeffery is the chronically ill and disabled founder of campaign group the Chronic Collaboration. She told the Canary:

The first time I became aware of the UNCRPD was in 2016 when it found the UK government guilty of “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human and civil rights.

This only came about because of the extremely hard work of disabled activists from, among others, Disability Rights UK, DPAC, and Inclusion London. They, whilst living with chronic illnesses and impairments, had to take this fight to the UN.

Unfortunately I’m still, to this day, waiting to see what difference it has made.

I’m incredibly pleased to see the support of trade unions this time. But I’m incredibly disgusted with the lack of representation, let alone support, from the UK government.

In the same way that the UN has accused Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government of violations against the people of Gaza – yet Israeli forces persist in their genocide regardless – we will see the same thing happen in the UK after this latest UNCRPD report is published. That is, the UK government will continue to cause the deaths of chronically ill and disabled people.

We are yet to see any changes, enforcements, or punishments for any of these crimes – whether in Gaza or the UK. This renders the UN an effectively pointless organisation; leaving countless people suffering and forcing chronically ill and disabled people to continue campaigning for their most basic of rights, dignity, and survival.

Featured image via the BBC – screengrab

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