We recently provided evidence to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). In our submission we showed that the way in which the UK Government has chosen to leave the European Union has had huge implications for the rights of disabled people in the UK, including in relation to work and employment.
Grave and systematic violations
The UNCRPD is collecting evidence following an inquiry it conducted into the UK in September 2016. As part of this inquiry the UNCRPD considered that there was reliable evidence that the threshold of ‘grave or systematic violations of the rights of disabled people’ had been crossed in the UK.
In our submission we asserted that the UK Government has been undermining rights in two ways:
- The loss of explicit rights and protections – including the departure from the judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union, the general disapplication of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union across the UK, proposed reforms to retained EU laws, and falling behind in terms of more recent EU initiatives to protect the rights of disabled people. In our submission we noted that many examples of the workplace related rights and equality protections disabled people currently enjoy in the UK are due to legislation and policies introduced by the EU, including the Framework Directive for Equal Treatment in Employment and Occupation.
- Disruption to the ‘softer’ ways in which the EU supported disabled people’s rights in the UK – perhaps most explicitly through the loss of EU funding such as the European Social Fund which aims to improve job prospects for Europeans, in particular those who find it difficult to get work. In our submission we noted that in 2019, Inclusion Scotland stated that as much as 19 per cent of EU structural funds directly support disabled people, including in the workplace and in training to enter the workplace. Participation of UK-based disability groups in European disability networks which share learning and best practice, has been deeply impacted post-Brexit. This impacts the capacity to advocate for the better realisation of rights.
In signing and ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD) and the Optional Protocol to the Convention, the UK Government has accepted that people and groups can make complaints directly to the UNCRPD when they believe their rights are being violated. It was this mechanism that led to the 2016 inquiry. The UK Government, as a signatory to the Convention, must take very seriously the report and recommendations that the UNCRPD makes, including by making a formal response to the UN.
In our submission we asked the UNCRPD to consider making three recommendations to the UK Government which we believe, if actioned, could help better realise the rights of disabled people in the UK. They include
- ask the UK Government to ensure there is no further loss of rights and equalities protections for disabled people as a result of In addition, the UK should ensure that it remains a world leader in terms of the protections of the rights of disabled people, including by taking steps to implement these rights in domestic legislation.
- ask the UK Government to urgently provide clarity in relation to replacement funding, including on the focus of each fund, how they will operate in practice, and any gaps left by the loss of funds such as ESF.
- the Committee should recommend that the UK Government seeks avenues to continue supporting disability organisations in the UK to engage in European networks (including through funding) to ensure they can continue to share learning and best practice.
At the end of August 2023, the UNCRPD will hear evidence directly from Disabled People’s Organisations across the UK, as they meet for a special evidence session in Geneva. Following this, the UNCRPD will publish their findings on the follow-up process in a report in late October 2023. This is a real opportunity to call attention to the dangerous direction the UK Government has taken since Brexit, and support disabled people in their fight for the realisation of their rights.