November 2017 Briefing: The UN
We’ve given our full November briefing to what the UN had to say about the UK government’s record on disabled people’s human rights, and what this means for campaigning.
Many of you may know that the UNCRPD (UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) Committee has been investigating the UK government’s record on Disabled people’s human rights. Just last year the committee upheld a complaint made by lots of Disabled people’s organisations about the government’s systematic and grave violations of the human rights of disability benefit claimants and social care users. A year on, the committee has completed its investigation of the government’s compliance with the UNCRPD human rights framework.
As the committee concluded that the UK Government’s current approach to Disabled people is causing a “human catastrophe”, so we decided to devote the whole of our briefing to the UN Convention.
Simone Aspis (ALLFIE’s Policy and Campaigns Coordinator)
This briefing is focusing on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – sometimes this is called the UNCRPD or CRPD. Information about the UNCRPD in easy read.
The UNCRPD is made up of 33 sections (Articles) that cover the different aspects of our lives. Article 24 of the UNCRPD states that Disabled people have the right to the support they need to be included in mainstream education. Disabled and non-Disabled people have the right to learn together in ordinary schools, colleges and universities and take part in apprenticeships.
ALLFIE with other Disabled people’s organisations has been busy telling the UNCRPD committee that the UK government does not support Disabled people’s rights to inclusive education.
ALLFIE assisted the Committee to ask questions about what the government has been doing to support the human right to inclusive education.
The Committee were not happy with the answers they got from government.
The Committee made it very clear that UK education law does not support Disabled people’s human rights to mainstream education and that the law needs to change.
The Committee made it very clear that Inclusive education is not a choice, it is a human right.
ALLFIE is very pleased with the committee’s findings.
ALLFIE will use Article 24 to run a stronger campaign for Disabled people’s human right to inclusive education.
Explanation of the UNCRPD
The UNCRPD is an international human rights treaty consisting of internationally agreed standards on how governments around the world should respect and promote Disabled people’s human rights. The UNCRPD has 33 sections covering a wide range of areas including the right to life, right to justice, education, employment and independent living.
Article 24 of the UNCRPD requires all state governments to work towards the development of a fully inclusive education system with the ultimate goal of ending segregated education. However when the UK government ratified the UNCRPD in 2009 it decided to place restrictions on its Article 24 obligations by stating that for the UK, special schools would be included in the ‘general education system’ definition. Also where Disabled pupils’ needs cannot be met locally, the government reserves the right to provide appropriate education away from home. Full text of Article 24 here.
The UNCRPD, as with all human rights treaties, is not legally binding, but ratification of the UNCRPD affirms the government’s intention to comply with its international obligations to promote Disabled people’s human rights.
Each treaty has a Committee that is set up to monitor implementation, on a regular basis, for those countries that ratify the treaty. This year is the first time that the UK government has had their human rights record scrutinised by the Committee since ratification in 2009.
In preparation for the scrutiny process there is a request for a Government report setting out progress towards implementation. Each country has a domestic independent monitoring mechanism – in this country that role is carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. There is also an important role for civil society to play in the scrutiny process – we can submit a ‘shadow’ report giving our account of progress towards implementation. We can also meet with the Committee to help them identify the priority areas for scrutiny process.
ALLFIE took the lead on gathering the evidence for the Shadow report sections on Article 7 and 24. The shadow report was written collaboratively with the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA). ALLFIE provided evidence on how current education law, policy and practice is resulting in increasing numbers of Disabled pupils & students being forced out of mainstream into segregated education.
ALLFIE’s Director, Tara Flood, gave oral evidence at the List of Issues meeting with the UNCRPD Committee earlier this year in Geneva and again at a closed meeting with the Committee just before the formal scrutiny sessions with UK Government representatives in August.
At both meetings Tara spoke about the government’s disregard for Disabled people’s rights to access all forms of mainstream education covering schools, further and higher education. After the meeting in August the Committee requested a meeting with ALLFIE to help them understand the government position on ‘choice’ and its resistance to making progress towards inclusive education. This session led to Committee members using questions, drafted by ALLFIE during the scrutiny session.
During the scrutiny session the government claimed to be a “world leader in disability rights” which was challenged by various Committee members.
UNCRPD Committee’s Concluding Observations
The Committee made it very clear during the scrutiny session with the UK government that UK education and equality legislation fails to comply with Article 24 and that parental choice has no place in promoting Disabled people’s human rights to inclusive education.
That strength of concern for the lack of progress is reflected in the Committee’s Concluding Observations document which was published at the end of August. The document is full of strong and practical recommendations for change. These include:
(a) Develop a comprehensive and coordinated legislative and policy framework for inclusive education and a timeframe to ensure that mainstream schools foster real inclusion of children with disabilities in the school environment and that teachers and all other professionals and persons in contact with children understand the concept of inclusion and are able to enhance inclusive education;
(b) Strengthen measures to monitor school practices concerning enrolment of children with disabilities and offer appropriate remedies in cases of disability-related discrimination and/or harassment, including deciding upon schemes for compensation;
(c) Adopt and implement a coherent and adequately financed strategy, with concrete timelines and measurable goals, on increasing and improving inclusive education. The strategy must:
(i) Ensure the implementation of laws, decrees and regulations on improving the extent and quality of inclusive education in classrooms, support provisions and teacher training, including pedagogical capabilities, across all levels providing for high-quality inclusive environments, including within breaks between lessons and through socialization outside “education time”;
(ii) Set up awareness-raising and support initiatives about inclusive education among parents of children with disabilities;
(iii) Provide sufficient, relevant data on the number of students both in inclusive and segregated education, disaggregated by impairment, age, sex and ethnic background, and on the outcome of the education, reflecting the capabilities of the students.
ALLFIE is really pleased with the UNCRPD Committee’s recommendations which reflect many of ALLFIE’s own demands for a fully inclusive education system.
The Committee took the unusual step of requiring the government to provide a written report on their progress, one year on, in terms of implementing the recommendations.
The Government’s response….
Well we are still waiting for an official government response to the UNCRPD Committee’s Concluding Observations.
Scottish SNP MP Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) tabled a debate on the 12th October focused on the UNCRPD Committee’s Concluding Observations. Whilst Penny Mordaunt (the then Minister for Disabled People) spoke during the debate, she said nothing on the government’s response to the Committee’s recommendations.
It was disappointing that the debate was attended by so few MPs across the political spectrum after such a damning report of the government’s record on Disabled people’s human rights. Clearly, if MPs are not engaged with the human rights model, then it is no surprise that so much legislation and policy adopts a welfare, needs or deficit model approach to Disabled people’s entitlements to the support and means they need to participate in society on the same terms as their non-Disabled peers.
The UNCRPD Committee have recently published a General Comment on Article 19: the right to independent living. General Comment No.5 sets out very useful guidance on how states should promote Disabled people’s independent living under Article 19. It’s particularly helpful for ALLFIE because the guidance makes a very clear link between inclusive education and independent living. Section 89 of the General Comment states that:
“Living independently and being included in the community is inherently linked to inclusive education (art. 24), requires recognition of the right of persons with disabilities to live independently and enjoy inclusion and participation in the community. Inclusion of persons with disabilities in the mainstream education system generates further inclusion of persons with disabilities in community. De-institutionalization also entails the introduction of inclusive education.”
The Christine Lenehan report “These Are Our Children”, published in January this year including evidence of a direct link between Disabled pupils being in segregated education and ending up in adult and life-long institutionalised care – so this is a very important link that the Disabled people’s organisations working on independent living need to focus on.
ALLFIE’s next steps
Since Geneva and the publication of the Concluding Observations document, ALLFIE has met with the Department for Education (DfE), recently to discuss the UNCRPD Committee’s recommendations but we were disappointed because the DFE don’t think there is anything they need to do to change current law, policy or practice to be more compliant with Article 24 of the Convention. ALLFIE believes this is a disgraceful position for the DFE to take.
ALLFIE is now considering what we do next in terms of our engagement with DFE officials.
More broadly we will be re-focusing and strengthening our campaigning strategy. Rather than focusing on whatever comes out the DFE, we will use the UNCRPD Committee’s Concluding Observations recommendations on Article 24 to change and influence current debates about the inclusion of Disabled pupils & students in mainstream education.
Disabled People’s Organisations from the four devolved nations who attended the Geneva sessions are planning to set up a UK UNCRPD monitoring coalition. The group’s aim is to collect evidence from Disabled people and their organisations on the government’s continued failure to uphold Disabled people’s human rights across all areas of their lives including access to mainstream education.
ALLFIE is also looking at the possibility of drafting a private member’s Bill on Inclusive Education clearly setting out a legal framework informed by the UNCRPD Committee’s recommendations.
We will say more about our campaigning plans and how you can get involved, in the next briefing so watch this space!
News coverage of interest
- Guardian: article on the UNCRPD (written by an ALLFIE trustee)
- “Children & Young People Now” magazine news item covering the UNCRPD conclusion on the Government’s poor track record on Disabled children and young people’s human rights
- The Independent: feature article on the committee’s observations and recommendations