UNITED Nations officials will visit the UK in the next few months to investigate whether Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms have led to “grave or systematic violations” of disabled people’s human rights, the Sunday Herald can reveal.
A formal investigation has already been launched by the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. UN investigations are conducted confidentially, but a leading Scottish disability charity has told the Sunday Herald it has been advised a visit by the Special Rapporteur and members of the committee on the rights of persons with disabilities is expected in the “near future”.
Only last week, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith unveiled plans to launch a fresh attack on sickness benefit. He outlined aims to get one million people off the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) disability benefit, claiming too many people with “common” mental health conditions are reliant on the state.
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The SNP will today attack the “callous” plans, saying new statistics show this will affect nearly half - 43% - of all disabled people currently claiming ESA.
Shocking statistics published by the DWP last week showed thousands of people have died after being declared “fit for work”. The figures, which did not detail the cause of the deaths, revealed that 2,380 people died between December 2011 and February 2014 after a work capability assessment (WCA) found them fit for work.
Bill Scott, director of policy at Inclusion Scotland, a consortium of disability organisations, said: “The UN have notified us they will be visiting Britain to investigate ... and want to meet with us when they come, sometime in the next few months.”
Inclusion Scotland has also made a submission to a study being prepared by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, which is examining the right of disabled people to social protection.
It warned the UK Government’s welfare reforms are “jeopardising disabled people’s right to life” by increasing the risk of suicide after loss of benefits. Last week, the Sunday Herald revealed that DWP staff had been given official guidance on how to deal with suicidal claimants left penniless after suffering benefit sanctions.
The Inclusion Scotland submission also highlights a series of shocking findings, including that disabled people in some areas of Scotland are waiting for up to 10 months to access Personal Independent Payment disability benefits, due to delays in assessments taking place.
By 2018, more than 80,000 disabled people in Scotland will lose some or all of the help with mobility costs they were previously entitled to, according to the statistics from Inclusion Scotland.
And most families with disabled children will lose around £1,500 a year as a result of changes to child tax credits under the new Universal Credit system.
Scott said: “It is the cumulative impact that is so serious, because the government seems to have assumed that different disabled people would be affected by different cuts – but that is not the case. There are a lot of individuals who are affected by three, four, five - sometimes six or seven different benefit cuts.
“Because disabled people are less likely to be in work, they are more likely to also be reliant on benefits which aren’t specifically for disabled people, but which are claimed by people on low income - like housing benefit and council tax benefit.
“So if there are cuts to those, it affects disabled people disproportionately, because they are more likely to be on low income.”
Scott said he hoped the UN visit would help, pointing to a report published last year by the UN's special investigator on housing, Raquel Rolnik, which called for the suspension of the bedroom tax.
He said there had been an approach taken to "stigmatise" disabled people for not working in recent years.
But he added: "In fact one in three of working age really cannot work - and of the remainder, the vast majority want to work but cannot get jobs because of the discrimination in the labour market."
SNP MSP Christina McKelvie, member of Holyrood’s welfare reform committee said: “Just this week it was revealed that 2,380 people had died after a work capability assessment found them fit for work and this comes as the DWP is set to further cut support for up to 1 million disabled people – a staggering 43% of those who receive ESA."
She added: “We have consistently raised grave concerns about the impact and extent to which the UK Government is prepared to cut support for disabled people. The fact that the United Nations is now set to launch an inquiry into the issue simply underlines the gravity of the situation facing many of the most vulnerable people in Scotland and the rest of the UK.
“The DWP has questions to answer and the Scottish Parliament and its committees should welcome and support any investigation by UN representatives.”
Dr Simon Duffy, director of think tank The Centre for Welfare Reform, said independent research carried out since 2010 had shown the UK Government has targeted cuts on people in poverty and people with disabilities.
He added: “In fact the people with the most severe disabilities have faced cuts several times greater than those faced by cuts to the average citizen. This policy has been made even worse by processes of assessment and sanctions that are experienced as stigmatising and bullying.
“The government has utterly failed to find jobs for the people they target - people who are often very sick, who have disabilities or who have mental health problems.
"Instead we are seeing worrying signs that they are increasing rates of illness, suicide and poverty."
The UN did not respond to request for comment and the DWP said it could not comment as all UN inquiry processes are confidential.
A DWP spokeswoman added: “Suicide is a sensitive and complex issue and it is irresponsible to link it to our welfare reforms. We are committed to protecting the most vulnerable in society and spend more than £50 billion every year on disabled people and their services.”