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The UN Is Investigating the UK Over Its Treatment of People With Disabilities

Figures released in August in response to FOI requests showed that 2,380 people died between 2011 and 2014 after having their benefits stopped and being told they were fit to return to work.
October 16, 2015, 10:45am
Photo by Andy Rain/EPA

United Nations investigators are currently in the United Kingdom conducting an examination of the state's treatment of people with disabilities after allegations that new welfare cuts have repeatedly violated human rights and possibly caused thousands of deaths.

The investigators will specifically examine whether the British government has committed "systematic and grave violations" of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). This will make the UK the first country in the world to be investigated in this manner.

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Linda Burnip of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) was one of those who appealed to the UN for the investigation to go ahead. Writing in the Morning Star earlier this week, she said: "The fact that this is the first ever inquiry into any country using the optional protocol in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities simply illustrates how obscene the government's stance towards disabled people has been.

She added: "You might expect such an inquiry in some other less industrialized nations but here in the 21st century it leaves us asking just what has gone so badly wrong and how this shameful situation has been reached in just over five years of Tory mismanagement."

In response to the accusations, a spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) told VICE News: "We strongly reject the allegations made by DPAC. The UK has a proud record of furthering the rights of disabled people, with the principles of the UN Convention at the heart of its approach. We continue to spend around 50 billion pounds ($77.2 billion) a year on disabled people and their services."

Figures released in August in response to Freedom of Information requests showed that 2,380 people died between 2011 and 2014 after having their benefits stopped and being told they were fit to return to work. A further 7,200 died after being placed in groups aimed at preparing them to return to work.

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Related: Australia Is Locking Up Mentally Impaired Aboriginal Men in Jail Indefinitely

petition calling for the UK government to assess the full impact of welfare cuts on disabled people has also attracted more than 23,000 signatures in the past few days.

Peter Purton, equal rights policy officer at the Trade Unions' Congress, spoke to VICE News shortly before he testified to UN investigators. He said the biggest area by far is the welfare reform program that the government has been carrying out since 2010.

This includes the review of incapacity benefit, and the changing of the criteria for disability living allowance.

"It's a cost cutting exercise," he said. "It's all the consequences of the government austerity program that has been running since 2010 and will continue for another four years at least. It's popular, [the government have] had the media on their side because all this talk about working people, working families, means that people who aren't working are therefore scroungers. Large numbers of disabled people are particularly affected by a relentless attack. "

Recently there has been some debate around the number of people who are living on disability benefits, with the UK's official statistics watchdog finding the Department for Work and Pensions' announcement that more than 50 percent of claims lacked additional corroborating medical evidence was false. The UK Statistics Authority said that the real percentage of claims was just 10 percent.

Purton also said there was a major concern around the "large numbers of wrong assessments."

Related: A Damning Report and Angry Protests Highlight the UK's Most Infamous Immigration Detention Center

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd