UK government failing to protect disabled people, warns equality watchdog report

Published: 17 August 2023

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has today warned of the consequences of continuing inaction from governments in addressing problems faced by disabled people.

In a new report submitted to the United Nations (UN), the EHRC warns that many disabled people continue to face discrimination in the UK, and the situation continues to worsen, particularly in light of current cost-of-living pressures.  

Produced in collaboration with the other equality bodies and national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in Britain and Northern Ireland, the report follows a 2016 UN inquiry into the state of rights for disabled people in the UK, after which the UN published a list of 11 recommendations for the UK government to protect the rights of disabled people. This inquiry was held under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ (CRPD) Optional Protocol. 

This latest report assesses the extent to which the previous UN recommendations have been implemented. It shows that, despite limited or some progress in certain areas, we are disappointed to see no progress against some other recommendations. While commitments to address some issues have been made, actions have been delayed or don’t go far enough.

As the cost-of-living crisis deepens, many of the recommendations made in 2016 are even more relevant now, with over half of disabled people struggling to pay their energy bills in 2022, the EHRC’s report concludes. Disabled people also often face long wait times between applying for and receiving benefits, and they are more likely to use food banks than non-disabled people.

The EHRC has stressed the danger of a continuing failure by the UK and Welsh governments to make necessary reforms, including to address problems with the welfare system, poor engagement with disabled people and their organisations in many parts of the UK, and inadequate public services for disabled people, leaving them at a higher risk of poverty, abuse and poor health.

Kishwer Falkner, Chairwoman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:

“Alongside other human rights and equality bodies in Britain and Northern Ireland, we urge the governments in London and Cardiff to address the problems faced by disabled people and take action to address the UN’s recommendations from 2016.

“Disabled people must be treated with dignity, respect and fairness. The recommendations made years ago must be addressed if the lives of disabled people are to improve.”

Notes to editors

  • The United Kingdom Independent Mechanism (UKIM) has produced this evidence report. 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). The four organisations work together to cover their different jurisdictional mandates in the UK, which are reflected in this report.
  • UKIM is tasked by law with promoting, protecting and monitoring implementation of the UNCRPD across the UK.
  • A further Equality and Human Rights Commission report on tax and welfare reforms in 2018 found that the government reforms would have a disproportionately negative impact on several protected groups, including disabled people, certain ethnic groups, and women.
  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission is Britain’s national equality body and has been awarded an ‘A’ status as a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) by the United Nations.
  • The CRPD was adopted in 2006. The UK signed up to it in 2009.
  • As part of the CRPD, the UK agreed to protect and promote the rights of disabled people, by eliminating disability discrimination, enabling disabled people to live independently, ensuring the education system remains inclusive, and that human rights protections prevent disabled people from facing exploitation, violence and abuse.
  • The inquiry was conducted under Article 6 of the CRPD’s Optional Protocol, which the UK has also agreed to follow. This inquiry focused primarily on the rights of disabled people to independent living; standard of living and social protection; and work and employment.
  • The inquiry report made 11 recommendations related to the rights of disabled people to independent living; standard of living and social protection; and work and employment. These recommendations span many key issues – from engagement between governments and disabled people, to access to justice, rights-based welfare reform and accessible communication.
  • UKIM has assessed each recommendation and has noted that, despite some progress being made in certain areas, there has been limited or no progress against many recommendations. The full list of assessments is:
  1. Recommendation (a) cumulative impact assessment: no progress
  2. Recommendation (b): rights-based welfare reform: limited progress
  3. Recommendation (c): legislation and policy change: some progress
  4. Recommendation (d): public budgets: some progress
  5. Recommendation (e): accessible communication: some progress
  6. Recommendation (f): access to justice: no progress
  7. Recommendation (g): consulting and actively engaging disabled people and their representative organisations: some progress
  8. Recommendation (h): reducing negative and discriminatory stereotypes: little progress
  9. Recommendation (i): considering disabled people at risk in implementation of policies and programmes: limited progress
  10. Recommendation (j): establishing mechanisms and indicators to monitor impact: no progress
  11. Recommendation (k): responding under optional protocol: some progress
  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission sent a letter to the Minister for Women and Equalities on behalf of UKIM in August 2023, highlighting our assessments and noting our disappointment that the UK Government has postponed participation in the process until 2024.