Earlier in the week, the Guardian published an article pertaining to the inquiry launched by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on the British government’s austerity measures and their effects on disabled people in the UK.
The findings are damning to the authorities. The committee argues that the coalition government of 2010 systematically violated the rights of people with disabilities. Their policies intended to decrease public spending and reduce the deficit. This meant that cuts to disability benefits and the bedroom tax among other measures disproportionally affected the disabled. Critically, the report has argued that the ability for people with disabilities to lead independent lives has been severely damaged, as disabled individuals have had to rely continuously on family members, carers, or worse, be taken into institutional care. The threat of eviction and debt due to the spending cuts has also led to a rise in depression and anxiety among the disabled.
The social atmosphere created by spending cuts on the disabled have been grave. Disabled people have consistently been labelled as a burden on the taxpayer and branded lazy individuals. Their personal integrity has been aggressively interrogated and the constant badgering on their ability to work has created an environment of social injustice.
The government has rejected the report, raising serious questions about its ability to accurately evaluate the impacts of the unrelenting austerity programme on various vulnerable groups in society. As recently as March 2016, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation over an ‘indefensible’ £4 billion cut to disability benefits left the Prime Minister ‘puzzled’ and ‘disappointed’. It signified the failure of the government to fully comprehend the dire effects of a system which is arguably arbitrarily cutting back on public spending.
The inquiry, like many other organisations and research institutes has offered policy recommendations to prevent this kind of undermining of disabled people’s welfare when committed to certain economic initiatives. While the UNCRPD recommends evaluating the cumulative effects of all benefits on disabled people, the Social Market Foundation has recommended a system of trial projects and extensive consultation with benefit claimants to better identify those deemed fit to work and those who require a comprehensive system of benefits. This would allow the most disadvantaged individuals to gain the tools needed to participate fully in society and have a comfortable standard of living. It is argued that these measures should replace the controversial work capability assessment.
Whether these recommendations or the inquiry will shake up government policy is yet to be seen, but what has been made abundantly clear is that the current system is unsustainable and harmful to disabled people.
It is important to note that among policy makers, an element of compassion is lacking, which has been a hallmark of public policy since the formation of the coalition government onwards: a direct debt to the most disadvantaged in our society.