The UN inquiry into alleged violations of disabled people’s human rights by the government could lead to better times for people with mental ill health, says Stephanie Taylor-King from NSUN.
On September 11 2015, the Disability News Service (Pring, 2015) confirmed that 'the United Nations is carrying out an unprecedented inquiry into “systematic and grave violations” of disabled people’s human rights by the government'.
This comes after a report by the Just Fair coalition suggested that the UK had descended from being an international leader in disability rights to being in danger of becoming a "systematic violator of these same rights".
The UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stated that until September it had not been allowed to say that it had been investigating the UK, and that the inquiry got underway in January 2014.
However, a number of news services and blogs, including The Independent (Fenton, 2015), mentioned the investigation as early as August 30, stating that the UN was looking into 'human rights abuses caused by Ian Duncan Smith's welfare reforms'.
Aware that many of its 4,000+ members are extremely concerned by the changes introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the National Survivor User Network (NSUN), shared the news with its followers and affiliate networks, reaching more than 1,100 people on Facebook alone.
NSUN members have expressed worries concerning modifications to the welfare state in the past (NSUN, 2013), including in our Mental Health Manifesto (2015), where the membership called on the next government to 'address the injustice and harm that have been caused by cuts to public funding and changes to the benefits system'.
In the Manifesto, NSUN members said human rights were at the forefront of their hopes for the future, as they also called on the UK's next leaders to 'reform the Mental Health Act 2007 to make it fully compliant with human rights legislation and ensure that people are not harmed or abused by restrictive practice'.
On the day the UN investigation was confirmed, NSUN was engaging with members who reported being sanctioned by the DWP for participating in involvement activities that account for less than the allowed 16 hours threshold.
Too many people who struggle with their mental health face penalties that do nothing but trigger further difficulties: on September 7, 2015, the BBC published a film in which Lee Curry said that 'benefit sanctions harmed [his] mental health'. Curry was facing a four-week benefit sanction for not turning up to an appointment he'd never been told about.
According to DWP statistics, 2,380 people died between December 2011 and February 2014 after their claim for Employment and Support Allowance ended because a work capability assessment (WCA) found they were found fit for work.
Mark Wood was one of these people. Earlier this year, his sister Cathie said she was certain that her brother died: “because we are moving towards a society which can't have people like him in it.” (Good, 2015)
Mark lived with a number of diagnoses, such as autism, Asperger's syndrome and obsessive compulsive disorder. Despite his diagnoses being documented by doctors, he was declared 'fit for work' by a WCA. This decision caused his anxieties, such as food phobias, to accelerate: he ceased to engage socially, his family was at a loss as to how to help him. After his benefits were suspended, Mark stopped eating, became too weak to go out and was ultimately found dead in his home. He weighed just 5st 8lbs.
He is only one of the examples that spurred Disabled People Against the Cuts to lobby the UN, provoking the investigation currently underway (DPAC, 2015).
It is more than worrying that the UN had to be called in. The government has so far remained indifferent to pleas coming from within the UK. For example, the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy opposed one of the most recent welfare reforms, which introduced mandatory use of psychological therapies in the delivery of workfare programmes. (Reeves, 2015)
Previously, in April, 442 academics and mental health practitioners signed an open letter, published by The Guardian, which branded welfare reforms and austerity in general as 'malign' and 'profoundly damaging' to the nation's mental health.
We wish to help in the UN inquiry. The first of its kind, hopefully it will ultimately lead to better days for the mental health community, which is especially vulnerable because of centuries of social stigma and still suffer invisibly due to being perceived as non-existent.
Alastair Good ‘Victim's sister: The DWP know they are killing people’ The Telegraph, August 30, 2015. Available at: www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newsvideo/11827875/The-DWP-accused-of-killing-people-after-fit-for-work-death-figures-released.html
Andrew Reeves ‘Counselling & Psychotherapy: the Importance of Choice’ June 17, 2015. Media response. London: BACP.
Department for Work & Pensions (2015) Mortality Statistics: Employment and Support Allowance, Incapacity Benefit or Severe Disablement Allowance. London: DWP.
Disabled People Against Cuts ‘So DPAC triggered the UNCRPD inquiry but what does it really mean?’ September 8, 2015. Available at: http://dpac.uk.net/2015/09/so-dpac-triggered-the-uncrpd-inquiry-but-what-does-it-really-mean/
Dr Richard House et al ‘Austerity and a malign benefits regime are profoundly damaging mental health’ The Guardian, April 17, 2015.
John Pring ‘Confirmed! UN is investigating UK’s ‘grave violations’ of disabled people’s rights’ Disability News Service, September 11, 2015. Available at: www.disabilitynewsservice.com/confirmed-un-is-investigating-uks-grave-violations-of-disabled-peoples-rights/
NSUN (2013) Top Ten Important Issues Raised in the 2013 Membership Survey. London: NSUN.
NSUN (2015) Member’s manifesto. London: NSUN.
Siobhan Fenton ‘UN investigating British Government over human rights abuses caused by IDS welfare reforms’ The Independent, August 30 2015.
About the author
Stephanie Taylor King, communications coordinator with the National Survivor User Network.