UK progress on disability rights 'patchy and torturous', UN told

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Businessman in wheelchair

Progress towards equality for disabled people in the UK "continues to be patchy and torturous", campaigners have warned.

Disability rights groups have submitted a "shadow report" to a United Nations committee, criticising the UK for breaking the promise it made when it signed up to its international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2009.

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK (DRUK) who led the report, said it drew on experiences of disabled people to show "the impediments that prevent so many fulfilling their potential and living full, independent lives".

She said: "Whether you look at the shockingly low average life expectancy of people with learning disabilities or the sheer poverty of disabled people, it is clear that progress towards real equality continues to be patchy and torturous."

Compulsory detention and treatment under the Mental Health Act has risen over the last decade, despite being incompatible with the UN convention, the authors told the committee, which is reviewing the country's implementation progress.

Compulsory Treatment Orders (CTOs) were used 4,564 times in 2014-15 despite the intention that they would only be used 400-600 times annually when Labour introduced them in 2008, it said.

The report also highlights concerns about a wide shortage in accessible homes, the level of hate speech and hate crime, and the rising number of children in "special schools" rather than mainstream education and general access problems on the street and on public transport.

DRUK head Liz Sayce said: "When the UK ratified the convention in 2009, millions of disabled people hoped for a new era of equality, fair treatment and the opportunity to take full part in society, like all other citizens.

"Sadly, successive governments have often failed to take account of disabled people's rights when making policy; and have introduced some policies that actually make things much worse."

These include the 2008 expansion of compulsory mental health treatment - "which research shows has had no beneficial effects but has infringed human rights" - and cuts to social care which have made it "harder for many disabled people to live independently", she said.

While DRUK acknowledged that governments had introduced "helpful" stand-alone measures, such as making apprenticeships more flexible, the overall "progressive realisation of rights" was lacking.

With many health, social care and public transport services now devolved to organisations, across the country, the Government should do more to ensure these providers stick to the convention, the report argues.

The report - produced with support from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, Disability Wales and Inclusion Scotland - is calling for policymakers to work with disabled people to enact the committee's recommendations and conclusions, which are due later in 2017.