GENEVA (24 August 2017) - The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded its consideration of the initial report of the United Kingdom on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Karen Jochelson, Head of the Office for Disability Issues, Department of Work and Pensions of the United Kingdom, presenting the report, said that the 2010 Equality Act, implemented in England, Scotland and Wales, strengthened the protection against discrimination on the basis of disability, recognized indirect disability discrimination, and went further in protecting disabled people. The United Kingdom had set a clear goal to get one million more disabled people and people with health conditions into work over the next 10 years; it was determined to be a place that worked for everyone and ensure that disability did not indicate the path that a person took in life. The commitment to those ambitions was not altered by the decision to leave the European Union. It was through discussions with civil society that the United Kingdom Government and devolved administrations had adopted the terms “disabled people”, which was the best fit with the national understanding of the social model of disability. The country remained committed to thinking how to remove physical, social and environmental barriers to enable disabled people to realize their aspirations and potential, and to working with disabled people, civil society and businesses to find solutions.
The United Kingdom Independent Mechanism and its constituent members drew attention to the continued gaps in legal protection provided by the Equality Act 2010, and said that the legislation in Northern Ireland provided a lower level of protection from disability discrimination than in the rest of the United Kingdom. They warned that the planned exit from the European Union might pose a significant risk of regression in disability rights protection and urged the Government to ensure this did not happen.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts noted that access to the human rights enshrined in the Convention was uneven across the country and stressed that the responsibility of the State party to ensure the recognition and protection of human rights in all its parts could not be decentralized. The claim to be a leader in disability rights carried responsibility, Experts said and urged the United Kingdom to withdraw its reservations to the Convention. Persons with disabilities were heavily dependent on the outcome of the negotiations towards the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union and must be included in those negotiations, Experts stressed. They expressed great concern about the social cuts which had led to a human tragedy as they completely disregarded vulnerability and asked about measures to address this situation. There was a high representation of persons of African and Caribbean origin in psychiatric institutions, and a disproportionate use of the Mental Health Act against people of African descent, Experts said. The issue of access to justice was raised as well, particularly in terms of physical accessibility and access to information, while concern was expressed that the 2012 Law on Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act placed undue burden on persons with disabilities in requesting legal aid in discrimination cases. The delegation was also asked about measures to reduce poverty among persons with disabilities, including those in work, tangible measures to fulfil the promise of creating jobs for one million persons with disabilities in 10 years, and how the Government was building the capacity of mainstream education providers to be more inclusive of children with disabilities.
In her concluding remarks, Ms. Jochelson said that in going forward, the United Kingdom would reflect on the three key learning points from this dialogue, namely the emphasis on engaging with disabled people and their organizations in decision and policy-making, availability of data to demonstrate the impact of policies on disabled people, and the importance of the involvement of disabled people in awareness raising.
Representatives of the United Kingdom Independent Mechanism and its constituent members stressed that there must be swift progress on two key issues: the United Kingdom and devolved governments must safeguard and strengthen disabled people’s rights and put in place a cohesive and coordinated approach, and a United Kingdom-wide plan to implement the Committee’s recommendations.
Stig Langvad, Committee Rapporteur for the United Kingdom, said that the dialogue demonstrated the differing perceptions of the implementation of human rights in the United Kingdom and urged the country to take appropriate measures to address the recommendations from the Committee’s inquiry report. Many States considered the United Kingdom to be an example to follow, thus it had a special obligation to set high standards and realize the rights of persons with disabilities enshrined in the Convention.
The delegation of the United Kingdom included representatives of the Office for Disability Issues, Department of Work and Pensions, Department for Education, Department for Communities and Local Government, Department for Transport, Ministry of Justice, Department for Health, Home Office, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Government Equalities Office, representatives of the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, Northern Ireland executive, as well as members of the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee’s public meetings in English and Spanish, with closed captioning and International Sign Language, are webcast at http://webtv.un.org/
The Committee will meet in public at 10 a.m. on Friday, 25 August, to hold a day of general discussion on the right of persons with disabilities to equality and non-discrimination (article 5), as part of the process leading to the preparation of a draft general comment on that matter.
The initial report of the United Kingdom can be read here: CRPD/C/GBR/1.
Presentation of the Report
KAREN JOCHELSON, Head of the Office for Disability Issues, Department of Work and Pensions, said that the United Kingdom had a long and proud history of furthering the rights of disabled people and it had introduced in 1970 the world’s first legislation recognizing and giving rights to disabled people. The 2010 Equality Act, implemented in England, Scotland and Wales, strengthened the protection against discrimination on the basis of disability, recognized indirect disability discrimination, and went further in protecting disabled people. While the legislative framework and the commitment to the Convention provided a strong framework for ensuring and protecting the rights of disabled people, the United Kingdom recognized that there was more to be done in all aspects of society and life to progressively realize the Convention articles, and it was taking positive steps towards this.
The United Kingdom had set a clear and time-bound goal to get one million more disabled people and people with health conditions into work over the next 10 years. In England, the Children and Families Act 2014 had introduced important reforms to the provisions for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. The Mental Capacity Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 would support disabled people with mental health conditions to ensure they were treated on an equal basis. Scotland had published a new Accessible Travel Framework in 2016 and had funded an Inclusive Communication Hub. The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2015 provided the statutory framework to deliver the Welsh Government’s commitment to transform social services to improve the well-being of people needing care and some carers. The United Kingdom was determined to ensure that it was a place that worked for everyone and that disability did not indicate the path that a person took in life. The commitment to those ambitions was not altered by the decision to leave the European Union, stressed Ms. Jochelson, adding that the commitment to the Convention was also unaltered by the recent optional protocol proceedings and the differences of views between the United Kingdom and the Committee.
It was through discussion with civil society that the United Kingdom Government and devolved administrations had adopted the terms “disabled people” rather than “persons with disabilities”, and there was a cross-sector agreement that this term best fit with the United Kingdom’s understanding of the social model of disability, which informed its approach to policy. The United Kingdom strongly acknowledged the very real value of the social model, which underpinned the Convention; it remained committed to thinking how to remove physical, social and environmental barriers to enable disabled people to realize their aspirations and potential and would continue to work with disabled people, civil society and businesses to find solutions. Ms. Jochelson then provided a constitutional overview of the United Kingdom to provide context for the dialogue and noted that the United Kingdom Government had responsibility in England and retained responsibility United Kingdom-wide for certain policies, such as immigration and defence. The Governments for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales had legislative responsibility for major areas of public policy, including health, education, housing and in Northern Ireland and Scotland, justice. The Office for Disability Issues took a leading role as the United Kingdom focal point for the Convention, but the responsibility for driving the progressive implementation of the United Kingdom’s obligations reached across the administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Although not part of the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom retained responsibility for the international representation of the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories at the United Nations. The Convention was still to be extended to those countries and the United Kingdom was working with the territories to support and encourage the extension of this Convention, concluded Ms. Jochelson.
Statement by the National Human Rights Institution
The United Kingdom Independent Mechanism and its constituent members drew the attention of the Committee to the continued gaps in legal protection provided by the Equality Act 2010, while the legislation in Northern Ireland provided a lower level of protection from disability discrimination than in the rest of the United Kingdom. Third parties continued to make decisions for disabled people on the basis of their perceived best interests, and legislative attempts to promote supported decision making had not led to the required paradigm shift. In Scotland, disabled people continued to be omitted from the key policy areas concerning them, and a range of policies, while positive in intent, were not adequately supported to deliver disabled people’s rights in practice. In Northern Ireland, the Committee should urge the reform of the Disability Discrimination Act, examine the under-representation of disabled people in public life, and call for the greater participation of disabled people in the development of disability strategy. In England and Wales, the Committee should recommend a full review of the impact of changes to legal aid on disabled people. The United Kingdom continued to overstate the ability of the Equality Act 2010 to make the Convention a reality, although it did not cover the full scope of the Convention. The planned exit from the European Union might pose a significant risk of regression in disability rights protection and the United Kingdom Government must ensure this did not happen.
Questions from the Committee Experts
STIG LANGVAD, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the United Kingdom, took positive note of the live webcasting of this dialogue, which was a way to democratize human rights and to enable persons with disabilities from all over the world to utilize and claim their rights.
Access to the human rights enshrined in the Convention in the United Kingdom was too limited and uneven across the country, said the Rapporteur, recalling the great responsibility of the State party to ensure that human rights were recognized and protected in all its parts; this responsibility could not be decentralized, stressed Mr. Langvad.
Persons with disabilities in the United Kingdom were heavily dependent on the outcome of the negotiations towards the implementation of the so-called Brexit. This was the first time that the Committee was witnessing a State party which was going through a significant process of transition that brought uncertainty to all people living in its territory, particularly persons with disabilities, and the Rapporteur encouraged the United Kingdom to inform the Committee, in detail, on how representative organizations of persons with disabilities would be involved in the negotiations on the withdrawal from the European Union.
The Rapporteur expressed hope that this dialogue would significantly contribute to the positive narrative of the importance and impact of the United Nations and stressed that it was vital to show the value and efficiency of the United Nations in those times where human rights were under philosophical and political pressure and disregarded by many actors.
The United Nations Member States had committed to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda which was in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and action must be taken to implement this agenda.
Mr. Langvad said he was deeply moved by the overwhelming interest in the dialogue on the situation of persons with disabilities in the United Kingdom, its devolved governments and overseas territories, and said that over the last two years, the Committee had received more than 2,000 pages of input from the United Kingdom, human rights institutions, civil society and especially the many organizations representing persons with disabilities. The numerous contributions had been supplemented by the findings of the inquiry report adopted by the Committee pursuant to article 6 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, which concluded that there were grave and systematic violations of rights of persons with disabilities in the State party. Its recommendations would be taken into account in this dialogue, said the Rapporteur.
This was the time to go beyond highlighting the initiatives already decided upon on the journey toward implementing the Convention, but now was the time to identify the missing initiatives within the policies and regulations of the State party.
A Committee Expert inquired about the involvement of persons with disabilities and representative organizations of persons with disabilities in decision-making in matters that concerned them. The Committee had received reports about discrimination against persons with disabilities in the area of housing and the delegation was asked about steps taken to address the matter.
How was the human rights-based approach of disability understood and applied in the efforts to implement the Convention?
Women with disabilities experienced disproportionate levels of violence and abuse, with several barriers in accessing services and support. Furthermore, the United Kingdom was yet to ratify the Istanbul Convention. Could the delegation comment?
What steps were being taken to reduce the poverty level among persons with disabilities, to eliminate bullying of children with disabilities in the school environment, and to raise awareness of the public about the rights of persons with disabilities?
The United Kingdom’s statement that it was consulting with representative organizations of persons with disabilities had been disputed by those very organizations, remarked an Expert and asked the delegation to inform on the consultative mechanisms in place, how persons with disabilities participated in the decision-making and in the legislative processes, and how they were involved in awareness raising campaigns and activities.
Which mechanism was in place to enable children with disabilities to express themselves and to provide to their needs in accordance with their understanding?
What could explain the high rate of suicide among persons with intellectual disabilities?
An Expert asked about regular and targeted measures to overcome negative attitudes, stereotypes and prejudices against persons with disabilities, particularly persons with dementia and autism, and persons with intellectual or learning disabilities.
What efforts were in place to provide access to the Internet, both public and private websites, and to e-books? What accessibility standards would be used following the exit from the European Union, and how would the United Kingdom promote accessibility nationally and globally?
The delegation was further asked about accessible measures of support to women with disabilities who were victims of violence or domestic violence, and about the specific measures adopted to give women with disabilities access to education, employment and justice. What was being done to tackle poverty levels among children with disabilities, and what were the reasons behind the high poverty levels among families with disabled members?
A Committee Expert expressed concern about the high representation of persons of African and Caribbean origin in psychiatric institutions and asked what was being done to end the disproportionate use of the Mental Health Act against people of African descent in the United Kingdom, and end its use as a veritable tool of the State’s oppression against their communities.
What was the monitoring mandate of the Office for Standards for Education, Children Services and Skills in relation to bullying in schools?
Much of the change had been brought to protect the rights of persons with disabilities through the Equality Act 2010; however, the way in which a person with disabilities could apply for legal aid, defined by the Legal Aid and Sentencing Act 2012, placed an undue burden on persons with disabilities in requesting legal aid in discrimination cases. What was being done to ensure that persons with disabilities had equal access to goods and services?
The leading definition of disability stipulated within the Equality Act 2010 was not in line with the Convention, as it was more impairment than capacity based, hindered the disabled persons’ full and active participation in the society on an equal footing with others, and reflected the medical rather than social model of disability. What were the plans concerning the bringing of the definition of disability in line with the Convention?
What support and protection was provided to children with disabilities whose parents had a disability, especially if the parents’ legal capacity was limited? What were the plans to stop the institutionalization of children with intellectual disabilities and support families to care for their children?
What were the economic repercussions of Brexit on the benefits and resources for persons with disabilities?
The minimum accessibility standards were included in the law, remarked an Expert and asked how the needs of persons with disabilities, which were beyond the minimum standards, were met. How accessible were rural towns and areas, and was there any disability sensitivity training provided to taxi drivers? What was the plan concerning the adoption of mandatory information standards for the communication and correspondence with healthcare providers and social workers?
How were the efforts to implement the Convention coordinated between the devolved governments and overseas territories and how were the respective national human rights institutions consulted in the process? What steps were being taken to harmonize the domestic legal framework with the Convention and to abolish all discriminatory laws and practices?
It was expected that the principle of equality and non-discrimination would apply across the United Kingdom territory, but this was not the case, remarked an Expert, quoting the gaps in the anti-discrimination law in Northern Ireland. How would the United Kingdom bring the entire Equality Act 2010 in line with the Convention?
THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, asked about the treatment of intersex children in the United Kingdom, noting that their surgical treatment was regarded as a harmful practice by this and other Committees.
STIG LANGVAD, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the United Kingdom, remarked that the Committee and the United Kingdom had a different understanding of the overarching obligation to ensure the implementation of the Convention throughout the territory of the State party and in this context, asked how the United Kingdom would support the overseas territories, the Falkland Islands in particular, in their initiatives to analyse and address the living conditions of persons with disabilities. What mechanism was in place to ensure streamlined and consistent implementation of the Convention in cooperation with persons with disabilities? How were the United Kingdom and the devolved governments implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, and especially how were Goals 10 and 11 guided by article 9 and 11 of the Convention?
Response by the Delegation
The delegation stressed that the social model of disability was applied in the United Kingdom and it helped consider how to find solutions to the barriers that disabled people faced in daily life.
Disability was mainstreamed which meant that each Government had a responsibility for the development and implementation of the policies. There were focal points in each of the devolved administrations to ensure that there was awareness about the Convention, and the public sector duties applied throughout the territory. At the local level, it was the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Duty Act that ensured equality for the disabled people.
The “Fulfilling Potential Strategy” had been published in 2013; last year the United Kingdom had committed to reviewing it and would use the concluding observations from this dialogue to inform further steps.
Disabled people, who made up 21 per cent of the population, had a clear understanding of their situation and there were mechanisms for their participation and consultation; the United Kingdom was constantly seeking new ways of engagement. In addition to consultation around proposed policies, disabled people were involved in the implementation of the Convention and holding the Government accountable. One such mechanism was the accountability to the Parliament, which was accessible to disabled people. Further consultation with disabled people and their organizations had been undertaken in the preparation of the report.
The United Kingdom’s ambition was to eliminate discrimination, including disability-based discrimination, and awareness raising on disability issues was an indispensable tool. Considerable resources were being implemented on various activities to promote awareness, for example the disability confidence scheme would look at ways of reforming the attitudes of employers towards disabled people.
The United Kingdom was already a world leader in disability issues and leaving the European Union would not change this. In practical terms, the laws applicable before the leave would apply after the leave as well. All the European Union funding schemes were being reviewed and the United Kingdom was aware of the important contribution of the European Social Fund to the lives of disabled people.
The British sign language was recognized as an official language in 2003 and was considered as one measure of reasonable accommodation. Most sign language interpreters were free-lance or consultants.
Northern Ireland was in the process of amending the Disability Act 1995.
A representative of the Government’s Equality Office said that the definition of disability in the Equality Act was focused on impairment and was not in line with the Convention, and went on to explain that reasonable adjustment looked at what service providers and employers could do to remove barriers; the public sector requested the authorities to consider disability in laws and policy. The approach to dementia enshrined in the Equality Act was appropriate as it looked at how it impacted the person and his or her quality of life.
The United Kingdom did not have the plans to implement section 14 of the Equality Act which was related to red tape, because of the regulatory complexity and the assessed cost to business. The introduction of a dual discrimination would create new complexity in the system, with potentially small benefits for disabled people, and it was considered that its use by disabled persons would be limited. The Equality Act placed proactive equality duty on public bodies to consider effects on groups with protected status when designing policies of delivering services.
Legal aid provided equal access to justice for the highest priority applicants who met the eligibility criteria, including in disputes with local authorities, welfare benefit claims, discrimination and other instances. The civil legal aid advice line was available to provide adjustments and so support clients who needed it, such as webcam for deaf clients, or the use of a support worker or family member to communicate on behalf of the client. Published data on client disability on some areas was available since 2008 and for all areas from 2012 onwards.
With regard to reasonable adjustment during proceedings, the delegation said that this obligation under the Equality Act was taken seriously by the authorities. The prison and probation services made every effort to learn from each death in custody, and the service had a statutory duty to respond to any concerns raised about a death in custody.
The 2012 suicide prevention strategy, updated in January 2017, set out key areas of action, and it included working with local agencies to develop local level strategies to take into account people with specific needs, including the disabled. In 2015, the National Health Service had introduced the accessible information standard to enable persons with disabilities to effectively communicate with their health care providers.
On the protection of women and girls from violence and abuse, the delegate said that the Government recognized that different people had different needs and applied the principle that no one was turned away from the services they needed. The new domestic abuse commissioner would play a key role in monitoring the delivery of services locally now. The Government had announced the funding of £100 million between now and 2020 for the implementation of its strategy to prevent violence against women. A mandatory duty had been introduced for frontline professionals to report all cases of female genital mutilation. The United Kingdom was fully committed to the ratification of the Istanbul Convention and the first report on the act which would enable the ratification would be presented by November 2017. The ratification could not happen before the country was fully in compliance with the Istanbul Convention, which at the moment it was not.
The national approach to the anti-bullying strategy in Scotland was being refreshed to enable all to deliver a holistic approach and to develop messages on online and offline bullying. The guidelines would be published later this year.
England had made a major reform in the system of education and care of children and youth with special needs. The 2014 Family Act enshrined the principle that children and youth and their families must be fully involved in decisions about the support and education they received, and to make sure that they were fully able to participate in decisions that involved them. In cooperation with the Council of Disabled Children, a project had been developed to enable the children’s self-expression.
The reforms to the system of education and care of children and youth with special needs were fully underway in England and should be fully implemented by March 2018. All changes were being carefully monitored and initial positive feedbacks were being received: for example, in a recent survey of more than 13,000 respondents, 73 per cent had agreed that the health, education and care plans had led to their children receiving the care and services they needed.
All disabled children were regarded as children in need and local authorities were required to monitor and promote their welfare, and to provide short breaks for the carers. The United Kingdom was aware that more needed to be done to improve the mental health of children and young people and was investing £ 1.4 billion to 2020 to improve mental health services. A Green Paper, to be published by end of the year, would contain proposals for the reform of mental health services for children and youth.
The provisions of the Equality Act had entered into force in April 2017 according to which drivers of taxies and private hire vehicles were prohibited from refusing a disabled customer, a customer with a service dog, and customers in wheelchairs. It was also prohibited to charge such customers more.
The Welsh Government adopted the social model of disability in 2002 and in 2013 it adopted the framework for action to support independent living, in cooperation and consultation with disabled people. The Welsh Government would set out a practical programme of action to tackle some of the key barriers identified by the disabled people. Wales remained determined to reducing suicide rates by supporting initiatives and programmes aimed at preventing suicidal behaviour.
In terms of engagement with the disabled persons and their organizations in Scotland, the delegation reiterated the commitment to work with them and not for them, which was a paramount distinction. For example, the disabled people had worked with the Government of Scotland to prepare A Fair Scotland, a delivery plan for the implementation of the Convention. In October, Scotland would publish the first British sign language guidelines to promote the use of sign language.
Northern Ireland was developing an accessible transport strategy to address the transportation needs of all. An access policy and a guide for disabled people had been developed and disabled people were being encouraged to participate in the consultations.
The digital services were revolutionising the way of life in the United Kingdom and it was vital to ensure that disabled people were not left out, including in access to the infrastructure, services and accessible websites.
Questions by the Committee Experts
A Committee Expert inquired about the Mental Capacity Act 2005 which allowed the limitation of legal capacity and the institutionalization of persons based on real or perceived lack of capacities and expressed concern about the increase in institutionalization.
Could the delegation comment on the reports of the illicit routine use of taser gun against patients in secure mental settings? Would there be a complete ban on their use in psychiatric settings?
Had the United Kingdom evaluated the impact on access to justice for persons with disabilities of the 2012 Law of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, and what steps were being taken to mitigate the negative impacts?
Had there been any court cases against landlords who discriminated against tenants on the grounds of disability?
What measures had been taken to implement the recommendations made by different inter-parliamentary commissions on welfare reforms and the realization of the right to independent living?
Did the security and counter-terrorism personnel receive disability awareness and sensitivity training to take into account the needs of persons with disabilities and to communicate with them during counter-terrorism operations?
Under the new Care Act, how could a person with disabilities challenge a decision by the local authorities to reduce their care package? Was jurisprudence on the matter available?
How was disability integrated in Britain’s humanitarian assistance?
What measures were in place to ensure that the inability to pay did not act as a barrier to accessing justice?
About 83 per cent of the public toilets for disabled people had been closed since 2013 – what was being done to turn this around?
How could women with disabilities who were victims of violence access services and protection, particularly women with disabilities and women deprived of legal capacity?
What measures would the United Kingdom take to harmonize the Equality Act with article 13, and to align the legal capacity legislation with article 12 of the Convention?
Was it true that deaf people were deprived of the right to perform their civic duty as members of a jury?
THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, asked about the support services granted to asylum seekers and refugees with psychosocial or intellectual disability.
Response by the Delegation
With regard to the engagement of disabled people, a delegate explained that the United Kingdom mainstreamed disability into the work of departments, which were then responsible for consultations with disabled people while developing policy. The final Disability Strategy would be produced by 2018, and disabled people and their organizations were being consulted in the preparation of this document. There was also a general engagement with the disabled people and their organizations: FLARE was an initiative to consult with the youth, the Office for Disability Issues regularly consulted with the leading charities, and there were regular meetings with the disabled people organizations.
The delegate also informed the Committee about the involvement of the disabled people in the work around the Global Disability Innovation Hub, a legacy of the 2012 London Paralympic Games, which brought together disabled people, communities, professionals and the private sector to drive innovation, co-design and creative thinking. The ambition was for the Hub to become a leading centre for research and disability innovation in 10 years.
With regard to the implementation of the Convention in devolved administrations, the delegation said that the Welsh ground-breaking Wellbeing of Future Generations Act had placed the more equal Wales as a goal of all public policies and institutions and obliged public bodies to consider the impact of actions and policies on the people living in Wales now and in the future, acting as a guardian for future generations. In Wales, the Disability Equality Forum was in place.
In Scotland, the Convention complemented the domestic legislation and the Government involved disabled people in its implementation. The plan for the implementation of the Convention’s principles had been adopted recently and had been developed with the participation of disabled people. Since the devolution, the funding for representative organizations of disabled people had increased every year, and recently a record level of over £ 2 million had been allocated for the funding of disabled people’s representative organizations to enable them to engage with the Government on issues and policies that affected their lives. The funding also supported concrete projects, such as the Access to Elected Office Fund, through which 39 disabled people had been supported in running for election and 15 had been elected, making a significant contribution to the representation of the persons with disabilities in public life.
In Northern Ireland, all public bodies had a responsibility for the monitoring of the implementation of policies on disabled people, including through the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. One of the six themes in the draft delivery plan for the Convention was to improve data collection systems and to that end, research had been commissioned on the issue which would be ready by end of the year. It was planned to establish a Northern Ireland Disability Forum to give disabled people an opportunity to influence policy.
In 2016/2017, a total of 3,781 complaints of discrimination in the field of employment had been filed in the United Kingdom, which was an indication of the effectiveness of the legislation to ensure redress for the failure to provide reasonable accommodation.
In England and Wales, those using a civil court had to pay a fee; the fee was viewed, partially or in full, for those who qualified. Most employment-related disability claims were handled by the Employment Tribunal; following the decision by the Supreme Court concerning the fee payment in disability-related discrimination cases in the field of employment, it had taken immediate action to stop the payment of fees and to reimburse those who had already paid it.
The Mental Health Act 2005 contained safeguards for the deprivation of liberty.
Under the Mental Health Act 1993, anti-psychotic medicine could be given for a period of three months without the consent of the patient, after this period, an opinion of the second doctor was required, as well as the approval of the Care Quality Commission. The Government was committed to the reform of the Mental Health Act and one of the issues that would be examined was the disproportionate number of people of certain ethnicities, namely blacks, in mental health institutions.
On the reform of the disability benefits, the delegation said that the personal independence payment was a more focused benefit to provide financial assistance to people with extra costs associated with long-term care. Currently, 28 per cent of the personal independence payment received the highest possible amount, which was £140 per week.
As far as independent living was concerned, in Scotland, the Independent Living Fund had been established in 2015 and it administered a £47.5 million per year fund to support persons with disabilities to live in the community. As of March 2017, a total of 2,517 disabled people were the Fund’s beneficiaries. A new scheme of £5 million had been introduced to support young disabled people making transitions in their lives.
The delegation explained the system in place to enable disabled people to serve as jurors and said that the system was in place to pass on the information, prior to a trial, about the required reasonable adjustment. Jurors requiring third party assistance in the deliberation room, such as sign language interpreters, were currently disqualified because of the principle of 13 jurors and the obligation for the juries to deliberate in private.
The authorities in England and Wales regularly monitored the legal aid schemes to ensure they functioned properly. Following a High Court judgement in 2015, changes were made to the eligibility criteria for legal aid and to the exception case funding scheme. In 2016, the time allowed in domestic violence cases had been extended. The number of people coming to court without legal representation had risen since the legal aid changes, said the delegate, noting that self-representation in court had always been a feature of the domestic court system. A range of measures had been introduced to support those people representing themselves.
Wilful neglect, and abuse and exploitation in institutions had been criminalized, and all such cases could be reported to the Care Quality Commission. There was an independent whistleblowing mechanism for professionals who could use it to report instances in which institutions failed to address properly cases of abuse.
The Independent Police Complaint Commission had paid attention to the issue of the use of tasers and important progress had been made in monitoring their use. All the police officers were required to report the use of tasers, including the information about the persons affected. The use of taser guns in mental health institutions had been brought to the attention of the Independent Police Complaint Commission, which was working with local authorities to address the issue.
In terms of accessibility, in Scotland, councils were required to consider the need for specialist provision that covered accessible and adapted housing, wheelchair housing and supported accommodation. The policy “Designing Streets” had a strong focus on inclusive design and required public bodies to engage with disabled people. Scotland was aware that transport was crucial to independent living and had published its first accessible travel framework in 2016, produced in close partnership with disabled people and their organizations. The Strategy defined how the 48 key barriers to accessible travel would be addressed over the next 10 years.
The Welsh Housing Quality Standard applied on all housing, and it required the homes to suit the needs of residents, including those with disabilities.
In Northern Ireland, the executive had recently supported a master course in sign language interpretation, as a way to increase the number of interpreters in the communities. The Department of Communication was in the process of analysing the results of the public consultation on the sign language interpretation which would make a basis for the plan of action in this domain.
Questions by the Committee Experts
In the last round of questions, Committee Experts asked about the barriers limiting access to the highest attainable standard of health for persons with disabilities. Which concrete measures were being taken to address the concerns of women with disabilities, particularly those with learning and intellectual disability, to access reproductive health services and information?
With regard to the employment of persons with disabilities, the delegation was asked about the implementation of the recommendations contained in the Green Paper on the employment of persons with disabilities, measures taken to address the pay gap between persons with disabilities and their peers, and efforts to reduce poverty among employed persons with disabilities. Which tangible measures were being taken to fulfil the promise of creating jobs for one million persons with disabilities in 10 years?
With regard to inclusive education, the delegation was asked to explain who decided whether children with disabilities would attend mainstream school or special education school, whether the refusal to accept a child with disabilities in mainstream school was considered to be a failure to provide reasonable accommodation, and the steps being taken to transform the current special schools into inclusive education institutions. How was the United Kingdom Government building the capacity of mainstream education providers to be more inclusive of children with disabilities?
Experts raised several questions related to the impact of the exit from the European Union, and asked about the intentions concerning the Accessibility Bill which was based on the European Union directive, and the position on the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty.
An Expert remarked that 30 minutes of sign interpretation per month, which the television broadcast watchdog was requesting, was not enough. What was being done to facilitate the participation of persons with disabilities in elections, including by providing information in accessible standards?
THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, asked about steps taken to eliminate harmful practices against intersex persons and stop practices that amounted to torture and ill treatment, such as intersex genital mutilation. Claiming to be a leader in disability rights carried responsibility, said the Chair and urged the United Kingdom to withdraw its reservations to the Convention. The social cuts had led to a human tragedy as they completely disregarded vulnerability – what was being done to address this situation?
STIG LANGVAD, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the United Kingdom, asked for the disagreed data on pregnancies terminated on the basis of potential impairment of the foetus, and how the cost of independent living was calculated. What would be the level of funding for the Office for Disability Issues in the future?
Response by the Delegation
The delegation said that all those who were entitled to vote could do so, and disabled persons, as long as they were entitled to vote themselves, could ask for the assistance of the polling station personnel, or could bring a family member or a support person with them. Polling stations must be accessible and were selected in consultation with the disabled people. The Access to Elected Office Fund which had closed in 2015 had provided support to disabled people running for elections and the results and findings on its functioning would be published in due course.
The public consultations on accessible transportation were taking place today, 23 August, and were a step in the preparation of the Accessibility Strategy which would be adopted in 2018.
The delegation said the United Kingdom was strongly committed to inclusive education, noting that 98.6 per cent of English children with disabilities were educated in mainstream schools, and parental choice was at the heart of the system. For some children, the best educational experience was offered by specialist schools, and it was expected that those schools closely collaborated with mainstream schools. In terms of building the capacity of mandatory schools to educate children with disabilities, the delegation said that the statutory code was very clear in terms of expectations and that the 2016 teachers’ standards had a strong focus on meeting the needs of children with disabilities. Each school had to appoint a special educational needs coordinator.
The decision on whether to take into care a child of parents with learning or intellectual disabilities rested ultimately with the court, which was independent from the State, and the objective was already to return the child back to the family environment as soon as possible.
KAREN JOCHELSON, Head of the Office for Disability Issues, Department of Work and Pensions, said that for the delegation, three learning points from the dialogue were the emphasis on engaging with disabled people and their organizations in decision and policy-making, availability of data to demonstrate the impact of policies on disabled people, and the importance of the involvement of disabled people in awareness raising. The United Kingdom would reflect on those points as it contemplated next steps and prepared the plan for the implementation of the Committee’s concluding observations. Ms. Jochelson stressed that the United Kingdom was determined to remain a global leader in disability issues and said that this dialogue would certainly support it in this ambition.
In their closing remarks, representatives of the United Kingdom Independent Mechanism and its constituent members stressed the disconnect between the delegation’s replies and the lived experiences of disabled people, for example, the delegation claimed that legal aid provided equal access to justice and that social security was sufficient, in stark contrast to overwhelming evidence to the contrary. There must be swift progress on two key issues: the United Kingdom and devolved governments must safeguard and strengthen disabled people’s rights and put in place a cohesive and coordinated approach, and a United Kingdom-wide plan, to implement the Committee’s recommendations.
STIG LANGVAD, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the United Kingdom, said that this dialogue was the most challenging exercise in the history of the Committee and that it demonstrated differing perceptions of the implementation of human rights in the State party. The Committee was deeply concerned that the United Kingdom still considered itself a leader despite its inconsistent disability policy, and urged it to take appropriate measures to address the recommendations contained in the Committee’s inquiry report. The delegation had provided extensive information on the legal framework, however, the Committee was convinced that the existing legislation was not being adequately implemented and it failed to secure the rights of persons with disabilities throughout the State party’s territory. Many States considered the United Kingdom to be an example to follow, thus it had a special obligation to set high standards and realize the rights of the persons with disabilities enshrined in the Convention.
THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, thanked everyone for the constructive dialogue and hoped that the Committee’s concluding observations would help in the implementation of a human rights-based approach of disability in the United Kingdom.
__________For use of the information media; not an official record