The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Scope


  1.1  Scope is one of the leading disability organisations in the UK. We employ over 3,000 staff and have over 10,000 volunteers. We provide a range of services to disabled people including employment, education and residential and day services. Many of the disabled people we support have cerebral palsy and high levels of support needs. Scope is calling for the Government to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities in full, without reservation or limitation, by December 2008.

  1.2  Scope is very concerned about aspects of the Government's approach to the ratification and implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (the Convention). In particular we are concerned about:

    —  the time delay in the ratification;

    —  the proposal to add reservations to the Convention;

    —  the delay in signing the Optional Protocol of the Convention;

    —  monitoring;

    —  implementation and enforcement; and

    —  Scope also has specific concerns about disabled people's rights under the Convention on: violence to disabled people; poverty and disability; and disability and education.


  2.1  The UK's contribution to the development of the Convention was crucial; however, the delay in ratification has already had consequences in respect of the UK's representation on the international monitoring mechanism of the Convention. According to Article 34 of the Convention, a committee will be established with the task of monitoring the implementation of the provisions of the Convention. The committee will consist of countries that have signed and ratified the Convention. As this process is well under way the UK will not be able to nominate a representative and consequently the UK will not be represented on that committee leading up to and during the first round of reports from member nation states.

  2.2  This is the first UN Convention to be signed and ratified since the expansion of the powers of the European Union (EU) came into effect. However, despite the need to deal with shared and exclusive competence issues between the UK and the EU this should not be a reason for further delay. This is clearly not the case for other members of the EU who have already ratified the Convention.[52]


  3.1  The Government's decision to consider making reservations to the Convention has been a source of great disappointment for Scope and disability organisations, as any reservation sends a signal that the UK Government can pick and choose which human rights disabled people can have. This is why Scope is calling for the UK Government to ratify the Convention without any reservations. Scope asks the Joint Committee on Human Rights to use all its influence to persuade the Government not to make any reservations.

  3.2  Unfortunately, we know from letters from the Minister for Disabled People to the Joint Committee on Human Rights that the Government is considering a number of reservations, but because of a lack of communication between the Government and disabled people's organisations (see below) there is considerable confusion about exactly what these reservations might be. The five that seem to be being actively considered relate to the restrictions on armed forces; immigration; education; legal capacity and mental health legislation.


  4.1  The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has indicated that there is a need to enter a reservation in respect of service in the Armed Forces, consistent with the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA). Service in any of the naval, military or air forces of the Crown are excluded from the DDA's employment provisions, to preserve their combat effectiveness[53].

  4.2  We understand that the MOD has softened its stance on this issue and is now prepared for the reservation to only apply to new recruits into the Armed Forces. Serving personnel who acquire an impairment or condition while employed by the Armed Forces can be retained—and therefore will not be subject to a reservation. This position appears to undermine the argument that the MOD has traditionally used for excluding disabled people from the Armed Forces, namely that combat effectiveness requires all personnel to be combat trained or ready at all times.[54]

  4.3  Scope welcomes the MOD's new position, but would urge them to go further and drop all reservations with respect to the Armed Forces. There is no legal requirement to recruit personnel who are unable to do the job they are recruited for—so lifting a blanket ban on recruiting disabled people to the Armed Forces should have no effect on the ability of the military to undertake its important role.


  5.1  The Minister's letter of 24 Sept 2008 to the Joint Committee on Human Rights said that the Home Office "will wish to have a reservation in respect to Convention Article 18.1 and an interpretative declaration in respect of 18.2". This would be based on the same rationale as the reservation made 17 years ago when the UK Government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, the Government told the UN Committee on 23 September 2008 that it will be removing this reservation. As such we would welcome confirmation that the Home Office will not be seeking a reservation on Article 18.


  6.1  The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) signalled that they intended to insert an interpretative declaration on Article 24, 2a: "Persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system"—in order to clarify that the general education system included both mainstream and segregated special schools. The DCSF also signalled their intention to reserve on Article 24, 2b: "Persons with disabilities can access an inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live".

  6.2  We understand that wording for an interpretative declaration put forward by the Council for Disabled Children and Equality 2025 that includes putting an end date of 2025 is being actively considered by the DCSF. However the latest indication is that DCSF might accept most of the wording proposed, but not the end date. If this is the case this may be considered to be a reservation rather than an interpretative declaration.

  6.3  The UK Government's position, if adopted, is further compromised by the fact that other countries that have special schools as part of their education system have not made Article 24 subject to a reservation or even an interpretive declaration.[55] It undermines the UK's leadership on human rights in the international community. We would welcome an explanation of why the UK thinks it needs an interpretative declaration when other countries with similar education systems do not.


  7.1  The Office for Disability Issues has explained that the proposed reservation on legal capacity relates to Article 12—Equal Recognition Before the Law, and that it is a technical issue about the power of attorney. At present, we have no more information of the specific details of the proposed reservation and we would welcome more details on this and reassurance that disabled people's right to recognition of legal capacity is not weakened or undermined.


  8.1  The details of the reservations around mental health legislation are likely to concern the detention and involuntary treatment of people deemed to lack capacity to make their own decisions and the use of community treatment orders, which were introduced by the Mental Health Act (MHA) 2007. As the Mental Health Alliance says: "The Mental Health [Act] has failed to heed the evidence about the risks of significant over-use of community treatment orders and the excessive powers the MHA [Act] gives to clinicians. And it treats people with mental health problems as second-class citizens by allowing treatment to be imposed on those who are able to make rational decisions for themselves."[56] Again we want clarification to know why disabled people's organisations have not been involved in discussions.


  9.1  The UK Government has not yet signed the Optional Protocol. However the Minister for Disabled People said that "the Government is aware of the importance that many disabled people and the Committee attach to this issue. The Government is carefully considering its position as part of the Convention ratification process in the light of the ongoing review by the Ministry of Justice of a similar Optional Protocol relating to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women".[57] This sounds encouraging but Scope would press the Government to convert "carefully considering" to a firm commitment to sign the Optional Protocol.

  9.2  The Optional Protocol is important not just so individuals who can, once national and European jurisprudence processes are exhausted, take a case to the UN Committee, but also as it offers a number of other benefits that will under-write disabled people's rights. For example, allowing cases to go to the Committee will ensure that any rights issues that have been missed can be highlighted. It will also help the UK to be seen as an exemplar of good practice. Finally, opinions from the Committee under the Optional Protocol will help to develop and interpret the Convention and allow UK courts to take account of it.


  10.1  There is little indication of how disabled people and their organisations will have a substantial and meaningful input into the monitoring of the Convention. With ratification expected before the end of the year there is an urgency at least for the Government to indicate how this is going to be organised and funded.

  10.2  The problem of a lack of information for, and consultation with, disabled people has been an ongoing problem in the period since signing. For example trying to find out about the details of the various reservations suggested in the Minister's letter[58] was very difficult, making the possibility of having a meaningful input very limited. Organisations such as Scope were left to contact the individual Government departments whose willingness to enter into a dialogue varied considerably. As a result there was a lot of misinformation about the exact details of the proposed reservations and interpretative declarations.

  10.3  For disabled people and their organisations to have any confidence in the Convention to deliver substantive improvements in their lives and aid the Government's commitment to equality for disabled people by 2025, their experiences and expectations and the rate of change in their lives needs to be measured. As Scope's 2008 Disablism Audit points out there are few key indicators that allow for change to be recorded and measured.[59]


  11.1  Since the passing of the first anti-discrimination legislation for disabled people in 1995 (the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 [DDA]) there have been a series of Acts that have outlawed discrimination against disabled people, either directly or indirectly, including: the extension of the DDA in 2000 and 2005; the Human Rights Act 2000, and the Mental Capacity Act 2005. These Acts are landmarks in the establishment of the rights of disabled people. However, no matter how strong these laws are in principle they have been weak in their enforcement.[60]

  11.2  Scope's concern is that the very signing and ratification of the Convention will be seen by Government and other key institutions as sufficient. We can look to the recent critical report by the UN Committee of the UK Government performance in respect to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to see that a great deal of effort and commitment will be required to make the Convention rights a reality.[61]


  12.1  As important as the process of ratification of the Convention is, it is only the precursor to ensuring enforcing and upholding these rights in practice. Whilst supporting and co-operating with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in their formal monitoring for the UK Government, Scope will be vigilant in evidencing disabled people's experiences of progress independently of this official process. In this Scope will concentrate on areas of human rights for disabled people in the Convention that we consider of particular importance. At present we are particularly concerned about three areas of human rights abuse against disabled people: violence against disabled people; the disproportionate number of disabled people and families living in poverty; and access to quality inclusive education (see Appendix).


  13.1  Scope is urging the Government to ratify the Convention with no reservations including the Optional Protocol. If an interpretive declaration is deemed necessary for Article 24 by the DSCF then an end date of 2025 is required. Without this it could be considered a reservation.

  13.2  There has been little information and a lack of consultation with disabled people and their organisations over the ratification process. Also, little explanation or planning in consulting with disabled people and their organisations on what mechanism will be in place to record disabled people's experience of change in their rights under the Convention.

  13.3  The history of implementation and enforcement of anti-discrimination legislation in the UK has been weak. The redress mechanism needs strengthening if they are to deliver the Convention rights.

  13.4  Scope has concerns over specific areas of human rights abuse including: violence to disabled people in the form of hate crimes; that disabled people are more likely to live in poverty than non-disabled people: and finally that the education system disadvantages disabled children and young people.



  1.1  The publication of the report "Getting Away with Murder: Disabled people's experience of hate crime"[62] has highlighted what has been a hidden but significant source of violence to disabled people. Although official statistics are not collected on disability hate crime there are other sources of information that point to a high level of violence towards disabled people:

    —  A 2004 survey by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) and Capability Scotland found that 47% of respondents had been attacked or frightened (by someone) because of their impairment.[63]

    —  One in five had suffered an attack at least once a week.[64]

    —  An in-depth study, Another Assault, by the mental health charity Mind, published in 2007, found that people with mental health issues were 11 times more likely to be victimised than the rest of society.

    —  71% of survey respondents with mental distress had been victimised in the last two years.[65]

    —  A Study by NACRO showed that disabled people were four times as likely to have property stolen from them with the threat or use of violence.[66]

  1.2  Though the above statistics show clear evidence of the widespread existence of disability hate crime, it does not mean that it is always recognised, accepted or challenged by those with the power to do so. There is now a wider recognition from police and prosecuting services about the extent and nature of hate crime against disabled people and policies are being activated to prosecute and punish the perpetrators of disability hate crimes. However, the persistence of disablism in UK society and as a consequence, disablist hate crime, remains.

  1.3  Incidents of disability hate crime often stem from low-level harassment: name calling, intimidation and vandalism frequently escalate into more serious crimes. Bullying of disabled children at school is widespread and frequently goes unchallenged. This lays the foundations for the harassment and disrespect that many disabled people experience in adult life. Disablist attitudes are prevalent in UK society and can lead to human rights abuse in the form of violence against disabled people.[67]

Poverty and Disability (Article 28)

  2.1  Official statistics consistently show that disabled people are more likely than non-disabled people to live in poverty.[68]

    —  They are twice as likely to live in households that are fuel poor.

    —  The additional cost of disability can be as high a 69%.[69]

    —  Historically they are likely to earn less per hour than non-disabled people.[70]

    —  In a Scope survey when asked if they had enough money to buy the things they needed, 41% responded either not very often, or rarely/never.[71]

  2.2  Such poverty has its roots in the systemic discrimination against disabled people both in lower levels of income and also in the higher levels of expenditure. The consequences for disabled adults and disabled children and their families are to impact on their health and wellbeing as well as their opportunities and aspirations.

Education (Article 24)

  3.1  As mentioned in above (Section 6) Scope is very concerned about proposals to enter a reservation or interpretive declaration on Article 24. The continuation of a twin track state education system in which a proportion (however small) of disabled children are educated away from the family home and their local community is unacceptable in any civilised society in the 21st Century. The number of disabled children enrolled at special schools fell in number from 88,930 in 2003 to 84,620 in 2006, but increased to 84,680 in 2007.[72]

  3.2  In a general sense disabled children and young people in education are at a considerable disadvantage compared with their non-disabled peers.

    —  The percentage of 16 year olds who obtained Level 2 who had no identified Special Educational Need (SEN) was 58.5% compared with those who had some form of SEN identified who obtained 11.1%[73]

    —  The proportion of 16 year olds studying for Level 3 qualifications who are disabled is 39% compared with 50% of non-disabled 16 year olds.[74]

    —  The proportion of disabled young people aged 19 with experience of higher education is 28% compared with 41% of non-disabled 19 year olds.[75]

    —  In 2006 29% of young people who had either a disability or a health problem were Not in Education, Employment, or Training (NEET). This compares with 12% for those who did not have a disability or a health problem.[76]

3 November 2008

52   For example: Austria; Slovenia and Spain Back

53   Minister for Disabled People's letter to the Joint Committee on Human Rights 24 Sept 2008 Back

54   The MOD position was further undermined by a recent Select Committee Report which stated that many non-disabled members of the Armed Forces are not combat trained or ready. The report states that: "Between January to December 2007, 42% of force elements reported serious weaknesses against their peacetime readiness levels-15% below target". Back

55   For example: Germany, New Zealand, France and Australia Back

56 Back

57   6 May 2008 Back

58   Ibid Back

59   No Fun, No Sex, No Future: Scope's 2008 Disablism Audit (forthcoming December 2008) Back

60   For an example of this, see the Scope report Doing Justice to Disability: Enforcing disabled people's legal rights within a Single Equality Act ( Back

61   Committee on the rights of the child (49th session). Consideration of reports submitted by states parties under Article 44 of the Convention, concluding observations-United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Back

62   The Scope report-Getting Away With Murder: Disabled People's Experience of Hate Crime ( Back

63   Disability Rights Commission and Capability Scotland, Hate Crime against Disabled People in Scotland: A survey report, 2004 Back

64   Ibid Back

65   Mind, Another Assault, 2007 Back

66   NACRO Crime and Social Policy Section Briefing Sept 2002 Back

67   In the Scope report-No Fun, No Sex, No Future: The Scope Disablism Audit 2008 (forthcoming December 2008) 18%-nearly one in five disabled people-said that they did not very often, rarely or never felt safe and secure at home or in their local community during the day and at night. This is a significant percentage and illustrates the extent of the problem of violence against disabled people. Back

68   Department for Work and Pensions, HM Treasury, Department of Children, Schools and Families: Child Poverty Statistics 2006-07: at a glance. Back

69   Source: Zaidi, A. and Burchardt T. (2003) Comparing incomes when needs differ: equivalisation for the extra cost of disability in the UK. Quoted in the Dept of Work and Pensions: Reviewing the existing research on the extra cost of disability. Working Paper 21 Back

70   Labour Force Survey. Spring 200?-2006, January-March 2007. Quoted in the ODI Annual report 2008: Annex two: Indicators data Back

71   No Fun, No Sex, No Future: The Scope Disablism Audit 2008 (Forth coming December 2008) Back

72   DCFS School Census January 2007. SFR 20/2007 Back

73 Back

74   Youth Cohort Study (YCS) Cohort 12, Sweep 1 (16 year olds England and Wales). Quoted in the ODI Annual report 2008: Annex Two: Indicators data Back

75   Youth Cohort Study (YCS) Cohort 11, Sweep 4, (19 year olds England and Wales). Quoted in the ODI Annual report 2008: Annex two: Indicators data Back

76   Youth Cohort Study, Cohort 12, Sweep 3. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 4 January 2009