Many disabled people’s families have been “driven to breaking point” by cuts to social care, while other disabled people have been denied benefits and forced by the government into unsuitable work, a UN human rights expert has concluded.
Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said in his final report on the UK that disabled people were “some of the hardest hit by austerity measures”.
Alston said that cuts to public spending, and “highly regressive” changes to taxes and benefits since 2010 – combined with the government’s “stubborn” refusal to carry out an assessment of the impact of its austerity cuts and reforms on disabled people and other groups – suggested that the UK government’s policies breached the “principle of non-discrimination enshrined in international law”.
The report quotes Equality and Human Rights Commission research that found that some disabled people are set to lose £11,000 on average by 2021–2022, more than 30 per cent of their annual net income.
And it says the UK government’s reforms have often denied benefits to disabled people with high support needs and “pushed them into unsuitable work”, while care for people with mental distress has “deteriorated dramatically”.
The report describes how disabled people told Alston repeatedly when he visited the UK last November about “benefits assessments that were superficial, dismissive, and contradicted the advice of their doctor”.
It adds: “Those with disabilities are also highly vulnerable to cuts in local government services, particularly within social care, which has left them shouldering more of the costs of their care.
“This has driven many families with a person with a disability to breaking point.”
Alston said he had reviewed “seemingly endless evidence” that showed the “harsh and arbitrary nature” of some benefit sanctions, and the “devastating effects of losing access to benefits for weeks or months at a time”.
His report adds: “Many detailed studies give substance to the dire consequences for vulnerable claimants who are sanctioned.”
Disabled people are among the groups disadvantaged by the introduction of universal credit, he said, which has “built a digital barrier that obstructs access to benefits”.
He said he had heard “countless stories of severe hardships suffered under UC”, reports that were “corroborated by an increasing body of research that suggests UC is being implemented in ways that negatively impact claimants’ mental health, finances and work prospects”