Implementation of the Right of Disabled People to Independent Living - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1. We launched our inquiry into the right to independent living for disabled people in February 2011. We sought to examine various aspects of the right to independent living within the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD, or "the Disabilities Convention"). The UNCRPD is the newest treaty in the UN human rights framework, and was ratified by the UK in 2009. It builds on existing human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. Its purpose is to "promote, protect and ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity." The very existence of the Disabilities Convention is premised on the acceptance by the international community that governments need to take positive steps to remove the obstacles which all too often prevent people with disabilities from enjoying the human rights to which they are entitled.

2. The right to independent living is specifically enshrined in Article 19 of the UNCRPD, which states that "State Parties to this Convention recognise the equal right of persons with disabilities to live in the community with choices equal to others, and shall take effective and appropriate measures to facilitate full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of this right and their full inclusion and participation in the Community". However, as the UK Government acknowledges in its first compliance report which it recently submitted to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ("the UN Disabilities Committee"),[1] independent living underpins the rights set out in many of the other articles of the Convention. [2] The UK's approach to independent living therefore "goes well beyond the right as described in Article 19 and encompasses increasing choice and control, removing barriers and inclusion in the community."

3. Independent living, described by the Office for Disability Issues as being "about disabled people having the same level of choice, control and freedom in their daily lives as any other person", was placed at the heart of the last Government's policy on disability. Each of the three main political parties expressed its approval for the Independent Living Strategy, which the then Government published in 2008, which set out actions aimed at improving the choice and control disabled people had over the services they needed to live their daily lives. In June 2010, the current Government explained that they were looking at ways of taking the Independent Living Strategy forward. The Government's Disability Strategy, which the Minister for Disabled People told us would build on the Independent Living Strategy[3], is due to be published later this year. In December 2011, the Government published a discussion document, Fulfilling Potential, in order to receive feedback from disabled people and disabled people's organisations on realising aspirations, increasing individual control and changing attitudes and behaviours. However, this document does not invite feedback on human rights or other legislative rights for disabled people.[4]

4. This inquiry was conducted during a period of fundamental reform to many of the arrangements which underpin independent living in the UK, and in the context of significant reductions in public spending. Important developments in the area of independent living include the rolling out of the previous Government's replacement of Incapacity Benefit with Employment and Support Allowance and the introduction of a Work Capability Assessment, and the current Government's Welfare Reform Bill,[5] which introduces Universal Credit, replaces Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payments and makes changes to the housing benefit system. Other developments include the closure of the Independent Living Fund, changes to the provision of adult social care, and various reforms in the name of the "Big Society" and "localism". These changes will all affect disabled people and may, both individually and cumulatively, have a significant impact on the ability of disabled people to enjoy independent living as protected by the Disabilities Convention generally and by Article 19 in particular.

5. The Disabilities Convention is innovative in promoting a model of "subsidiarity" with respect to implementation and monitoring, whereby the traditional approach to treaty monitoring is augmented by requiring States to establish a domestic framework to promote and monitor implementation of the Convention[6] including designated leadership within the Government, an independent framework to promote, protect and monitor implementation, and the active involvement of civil society—and disabled people's organisations in particular—in both implementation and monitoring. This model is designed to encourage a domestic dialogue regarding implementation of the Convention and to promote mainstreaming.

6. Effective parliamentary oversight has an important role to play in giving effect to the principle of subsidiarity. It is first and foremost for the national authorities to determine what measures the state is required to take in order to implement the obligations it has assumed in the Convention, and Parliament plays an important role in scrutinising the adequacy of the steps which have been taken by the Government and testing the justifications for taking apparently backward steps or for not going further to implement the obligations. Those exercises in parliamentary scrutiny at the national level help to ensure that scrutiny of states' compliance reports by the international treaty bodies is properly informed and, where appropriate, pays due respect to the outcome of national democratic processes. The democratic legitimacy of the international system for the protection of human rights increasingly depends on national parliaments taking this role seriously.[7]

7. By holding this inquiry we have sought to build on the work of our predecessor Committee in this respect. That Committee examined the Disabilities Convention during its inquiry into the human rights of adults with learning disabilities,[8] and recommended that the UK ratify the Convention. It also scrutinised the Convention itself, prior to its ratification,[9] and subjected the Government's proposed reservations and interpretative declarations to rigorous parliamentary scrutiny.[10] The UN Convention requires the Government to take steps to ensure that reforms and spending decisions are consistent with its obligations. In our inquiry we have sought to examine the degree to which such steps have been taken and identify the potential implications of the reforms for disabled people's right to live independently and to be included in the community. In addition to informing domestic developments, our Report is also intended to make a parliamentary contribution to the forthcoming scrutiny of the UK's performance by the UN Disabilities Committee.

1   The UN Disabilities Committee is the body responsible for monitoring states' compliance with their obligations under the treaty. Back

2   UK Initial Report on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Office for Disability Issues, November 2011, para. 173.The Report was submitted on 24 November 2011. Back

3   Q 246 Back

4   Fulfilling Potential: a discussion document, Office for Disability Issues, 1 December 2011 Back

5   See also our Report on the Bill, Legislative Scrutiny: Welfare Reform Bill, 21st Report 2010-12, HL 233 HC 1704 Back

6   Article 33 Back

7   The Inter-Parliamentary Union has published a very useful Handbook for Parliamentarians on the Disabilities Convention, From Exclusion to Equality: realizing the rights of persons with disabilities (2007) which is designed to assist parliamentarians to perform their important task of seeking to give practical effect to the rights recognised in the Convention. Back

8   A Life Like any Other? Human Rights and Adults with Learning Disabilities, Joint Committee on Human Rights, Seventh Report of Session 2007-08, HL Paper 40-I/HC 73-I. Back

9   The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Joint Committee on Human Rights, First Report of Session 2008-09, HL Paper 9/HC 93. Back

10   UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Reservations and Interpretative Declaration, Joint Committee on Human Rights, Twelfth Report of Session 2008-09, HL Paper 70/HC 397. Back

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Prepared 1 March 2012