The UN Just Criticised The UK’s Record On Disability Rights

By Olivia Percival, Writer 14 Nov 2016

The UK government’s welfare reform policy has resulted in systematic violations of the human rights of disabled persons, according to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

What is the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?

On the day of the official nomination of the new Secretary-General to succeed Secretary-General Kofi Annan, outiside the United Nations Headquarters, flags fly in the north end of the building, on a sunny fall day. 9/Oct/2006. UN Photo/Mark Garten.

The Committee is charged with monitoring the way that states implement and uphold their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), an international human rights treaty to which the UK is a party. The CPRD affirms that people with all types of disabilities must be able to enjoy their human rights, and clarifies the steps that states must take in order for disabled people to enjoy their rights effectively.

All state parties must report to the Committee on a regular basis regarding their compliance with the Convention. Additionally, the Committee can conduct inquiries and examine individual complaints in relation to states which have ratified the Optional Protocol to the CPRD, as the UK did in 2009.

Why did the Committee conduct an inquiry in relation to the UK?


In April 2013, a number of organisations representing people with disabilities alleged that serious and systematic violations of the provisions of the CPRD were occurring in the UK following substantial legal and policy reforms to the social welfare system. They asked the CPRD to investigate. After examining the information provided to it, as well as the UK government’s comments, the Committee announced it would undertake a formal inquiry in 2014.

This is the first inquiry of its kind to be carried out by the Committee.

Which human rights were said to have been violated?

The Committee’s Report focuses on three rights included in the CRPD in particular:

  • The right to live independently and to be part of the community (Article 19);
  • The right to work and employment (Article 27); and
  • The right to an adequate standard of living and social protection (Article 28).

What did the Committee conclude?


After carrying out interviews with more than 200 individuals during a visit to the UK, and reviewing more than 3,000 pages of documentary evidence, the Committee published its report on 7th November 2016.

The Committee found that the core elements of each of the rights listed above had been affected, and criticised, amongst other things:

  • the way disabled people are portrayed negatively as lazy or benefit fraudsters;
  • the functional rather than human rights based approach to assessing fitness for work;
  • restrictions on disabled people’s ability to access justice because of legal aid cuts; and
  • the disproportionate impact of certain measures, such as the closure of the Independent Living Fund, and changes in eligibility for the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP), on persons with disabilities.

Finally, the Committee made a number of recommendations, including that the government should set up a mechanism to permanently monitor the impact of the different policies and programmes on disabled persons’ enjoyment of the abovementioned rights.

The UK government has issued its own observations in which it strongly disagrees with the Committee’s conclusions, but it will be expected to report back to the Committee on how it has addressed the recommendations at its next reporting session.

  • To read the full report, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page
  • To read about how disability rights campaigners have criticised benefit cuts, click here
  • Learn more about how human rights have helped people with disabilities by clicking here

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Image of United Nations Building © United Nations Photo/Mark Garten, used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic Licence

About The Author

Olivia Percival Writer

Olivia is a qualified solicitor who has worked in private practice and for the Government Legal Service. She is currently working at the Council of Europe.

Olivia is a qualified solicitor who has worked in private practice and for the Government Legal Service. She is currently working at the Council of Europe.