On International Day of Persons with Disabilities, it’s time for the UK government to listen to the United Nations

On the International Day of Disabled People, research shows that the government’s failure to accept the findings of the UN inquiry into the violations of the rights of disabled people will lead to more misery in the lives of disabled people.

Our research demonstrated the value of self-advocacy and supported employment in promoting the rights of disabled people but proposed cuts to funding of self-advocacy forums and a failure to address the barriers to disabled people moving into work in the recent green paper will do nothing to promote the community inclusion of disabled people.

The UK has been a signatory of the UN convention on the rights of people with disabilities since 2007 but an inquiry by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) marks the first time that any nation has been investigated by the committee over human rights breaches.

The process was initiated in May 2012 by Disabled People Against Cuts (Dpac) under article 6 of the optional protocol within the UN convention. Dpac submitted evidence detailing the impact of a range of policies, including the work capability assessment “fit for work” tests, the bedroom tax, benefit sanctions, personal independence payments and the abolition of the Independent Living Fund on disabled people.The inquiry was conducted in private, with witnesses being asked to sign confidentiality agreements both to protect the witnesses and to ensure that the government co-operated with the inquiry.

In their report, published in November, 2016, the United Nations concluded that the austerity measures applied to welfare and social care by the government amount to ‘systemic violations’ of the rights of disabled people. Their damning report laid bare the burden placed on disabled people placed since 2010.

The government’s response was to reject the report out of hand and to say that it would stand by and is proud of its record. Some newspapers sought to discredit the report by attacking its authors.

Disabled people have been asked to bear the brunt of austerity since 2010, after Brexit, we face the prospect of austerity for the next fifteen years - a terrifying prospect for disabled people and their families and allies. It’s time for the government to listen to the UN and to stop scape-goating disabled people.

Watch Rob talking about what the UN Convention means to him here:

The right to go to the supermarket

The right to be helped by someone who isn’t slightly miffed

The right to sit on the sofa

Opinion piece: Brexit and the logics of ableism

The votes are in. And Brexit is a reality. But what does Brexit mean for disabled people with learning disabilities? And, as importantly, what does Brexit tell us about British society and the values that underpin this society? In a new article, written by Dan Goodley and Rebecca Lawthom, they seek some answers to these questions.

After the Brexit fall out those on the Left of British politics (and their media) have struggle to make sense of the decision to leave the EU. Common explanations include:

  • We are now Little Britain
  • This is the final nail in the coffin to the death of social justice
  • Leave is a cultural vent for the rise in racism and xenophobia
  • We are witnessing the expression of opposition to the bureaucratic machine of the EU project
  • A move to the right in democratic politics
  • A stance against immigration

But what does Brexit mean for disabled people with learning disabilities? And, as importantly, what does Brexit tell us about British society and the values that underpin this society? How might we read Leave if we were to think of it in terms of a rational decision that reflects a particular kind of guiding idea or ideological narrative? Those defending leaving the EU have developed an explanatory discourse that includes the following tropes:

  • Standing alone
  • Reclaiming our independence
  • Being self-sufficient
  • Seeking autonomy (economic, cultural and national)
  • Self-rule over our national concerns
  • Maintaining our sovereignty

These statements are familiar to those of us who do disability research. We know that each of these concepts is consistently fused with another in order to articulate an ideology of ableism. This ideology underpins our neoliberal, late capitalist societies in which the lone entrepreneurial citizen works to keep him or her self-sustainable.

We might, therefore, view Brexit as the writing large of ableism: the ideology that assumes independence lies at the heart of what it means to be a good British citizen. Brexit marks the nation state of Britain as an ableist ideal: capable of governance and trade devoid of reliance on interdependent relationship with other European nations. And crucially a nation state with non-porous borders; where non-European others are cast as threats to British ideals. Brexit might be viewed as a consequence of the actions of neoliberal citizens of this brave new world of self-sufficient independence. These individuals are the treasured subjects of austerity. Working hard. Shopping enough. Delighting in their lack of need to pull down resources from the welfare state. Standing alone. Pulling ourselves up by the boot-strings.

The timing of Brexit and austerity are not coincidental. What we have witnessed over the last four years is a fundamental rewriting of the British citizen’s relationship with government. The government rolls back and individual responsbility rolls in. Brexit should come as no surprise. It is merely another example of the neoliberal-ableist individualism that marks our communities. Why would anyone want dependence, mutuality or interconnection with the European project when we are all austerity subjects now?

Our task, then, is to reconnect with one another: to reform our links and emphasise our dependencies upon one another. We need to build a political commons that reaches us, that emphasises our shared vulnerabilities and builds bridges between fractured communities. is just one small attempt to make these connections. We are not alone in this life together; no matter what Brexit might stand for.

To read the full paper click here

Opinion piece: When is a scandal not a scandal?

Scandals do not just happen. They are made. They are constructed out of such everyday tragedies as the small carelessnesses and institutional brutality of the long stay hospital, the abuse of children or the violent deaths of innocent bystanders. (Butler & Drakeford, 2005) [1]

This is a piece written by Katherine Runswick-Cole, part of the team

Seclusion, sedation, restraint and uninvestigated and preventable deaths were the subject of Channel 4’s Dispatches programme on 1st March, 2017.

Bill, a forty-one year old man, died from acute constipation. In an NHS funded hospital. In 2017. In Britain.

Fauzia was locked up for 22 months, and spent most of it in isolation in a cell-like room. Her crime? Being a person with autism and a learning disability.

Matthew was subjected to numerous face-down restraints, was left with excrement in his shoes and was pulling out his hair while locked up.

I was sure I was watching the making of a scandal. My Twitter feed, full of disabled people, parents, activists and academics told me that too - #outrage #heartbreak #scandal.

When I put BBC’s Radio 4 The Today programme on this morning, I was expecting to hear more outrage, more upset, more about the scandal. It wasn’t in the headlines at 8.00am or at 8.30.

A quick skim of the online front pages of The Mail, The Express, The Sun, The Mirror and BBC Online and no mention, though the programme had been trailed by them the day before.

We’ve been here before of course with BBC Panorama’s Winterbourne View programme aired in 2012. A brief flurry of press interest, followed by a range of ineffectual policy initiatives, which mean that 5 years later, despite the government’s pledge to bring people home, 2,500 people with learning disabilities are still living in hospitals.

The careless care, the abuse and the deaths (uninvestigated) continue.

So, back to my question, when is a scandal, not a scandal? Answer: when those affected are people with learning disabilities and their families.

This is what we have to change.

And as the programme showed last night we know what good care looks like. We know what it means for people with learning disabilities to be well supported in their communities. We know the importance of supporting people, who want to, into work. And we know that we must support a thirty-year tradition of self-advocacy in this country so that people with learning disabilities’ voices are heard.

We know what works – now we need to make it happen.

[1] Butler, I. and Drakeford, N. (2005) Scandal, Social Policy and Social Welfare Online at:

The disability employment gap: we know what works but successive governments are just not doing it

The government has published its long awaited Green Paper on work health and disability, and as one Twitter user commented with deep irony, ‘try to contain your enthusiasm’. But what are the implications for people with learning disabilities?

This reaction to the publication of the green paper is hardly surprising when you know that the UK’s disability employment gap stands at about 32% with less than half of disabled people in work - 48%. This compares with 80% of their non-disabled peers who are in work. If you are a person with a learning disability, your chances of being in paid work are woefully low – about 5.8%. This figure has changed little over the last twenty years, but shockingly, in realm terms, it is currently falling.

Successive governments have failed to address the disability employment gap. The hope, then, is that the publication of the consultation paper will re-ignite the debate about disability, health and employment. There is a desperate need to talk about work in the lives of disabled people. Many people with learning disabilities can work and want to work. An employment rate of 5.8% represents a scandal – it represents the exclusion of people with learning disabilities from the many benefits of working life: financial wellbeing, health and community inclusion. But not all disabled people are able to work and so access to work can never be the only route for people to feel secure, financially and emotionally, and included in society.

At the same time as the government hails work as the route out of poverty and marginlisation for disabled people, the support available for them to find work is under threat.

Add into the disability-employment mix cuts to Access to Work and cuts to specialist employment advisers and the future looks bleak.

But it shouldn’t be.

We know that, with the right support, many people with learning disabilities can work. We also know that this support needs to start early and that young people with learning disabilities and their families and allies need good support to make aspirations around employment a reality.

Take for example, Charlie’s story. Charlie was in his late forties when he got his first job, but he has been happily working in that job for the last ten years.

Case Study: Charlie’s Story

Charlie is in his fifties and lives with his wife in a city in the south of England. He enjoys local amateur dramatics, runs and dances. Charlie works for the city council in their meal’s service. The meals service provides hot lunches for people in the city who are in need of their support. Charlie works every day and does a range of tasks during the week including re-cycling, shredding, scanning, filing, cleaning and making teas and coffees. When Charlie applied for the job he was offered a ‘working interview’ where he tried out tasks in order to secure the post. He also had the support of a job coach when he started work. The job coach worked with Charlie to make a checklist for daily and weekly tasks that Charlie uses on a day-to-day basis.

So following our research, our message to government is to do what works:

What works

  • The Department for Education should strengthen employment as a strand within the transition review for young people with Special Educational Need and Disability (SEND) aged 14 - with a requirement to engage with supported employment providers which continues at every subsequent review of the Education, Health and Care Plans (EHC);
  • The Department for Education should allow for the continuation of EHC plans for young people to twenty-five in employment, but not in education;
  • The government should promote the principles and processes of Supported Employment as the key to getting more people with a learning disability into work
  • The government should promote a national register of job coaches backed by emerging quality standards to support training and development;
  • Each local authority should be required to provide opportunities for supported internships linked to good quality job coaching for people with learning disabilities in their area;
  • Each local authority should be required to develop pathways to employment for people with learning disabilities linked to outcomes based commissioning;
  • Employment support should be included as an outcome in personal budget planning.

Written by members of the team Katherine Runswick-Cole*, Dan Goodley ** & Keith Bates***

* Manchester Metropolitan University, **The University of Sheffield, ***Mutually Inclusive Partnerships