Time for the UK Government to do its homework on disability rights

by Rachel Fox

Published: 18 Jan 2018

“The Committee expects the State Party to – without hesitation – develop and decide upon a concrete strategy … to fully acknowledge and implement the Convention … Hereby I send you home with your homework.”

Stig Langvad

These were the words of a member of the UN’s expert committee on disability rights in August last year, when the UK Government and the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were held to account on their disability rights record.

The UK Government is often told to work harder on a variety of issues – but homework doesn’t get more important than this.

After quizzing the UK over two days about how well it protects disabled people’s rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the UN Committee made more than 80 recommendations on what the UK and devolved governments should do to improve the lives of disabled people across the country.

These are known as the Committee’s ‘concluding observations’ and they cover a wide range of issues, including:

  • tackling poverty among families with disabled children
  • improving accessibility across housing, transport and digital platforms
  • protecting disabled people’s right to live independently and be included in the community

The thing that struck me most when I attended the examination in Geneva was the dedication and expertise of the disabled people who submitted evidence and travelled to the UN to make their voices heard.

The power and influence of their testimony was evident from the UN Committee’s concluding observations, which accurately reflect the most pressing concerns of many disabled people in the UK today.

It was also encouraging see so many of the issues raised by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and by the human rights and equality commissions in Scotland and Northern Ireland, echoed in the UN Committee’s conclusions.

"Must try harder"

Here at the Commission we’re determined that the Government doesn’t procrastinate on its homework, and leave the UN Committee’s recommendations on a shelf gathering dust. The battles disabled people fight on a daily basis to get their rights respected make this unconscionable.

Knowledge is power, and awareness is the first step towards making change happen. So we’ve produced a ‘plain English’ version of the concluding observations, as well as an easy read summary, a British Sign Language (BSL) video and a Welsh translation – to help spread the word so that all disabled people know exactly what the Government has been asked to do. We also hope that this will help us work together over the coming years to make these recommendations a reality.

In five years’ time, when the UK and devolved governments are examined again by the UN Committee, we hope their homework will get an A* and not another ‘must try harder’.