Thursday, 17 October 2013

Bridging the Divide - Integrating National Equality and Human Rights Bodies


As WOWpetition enters the home straight my thoughts have turned to things other than how do we get people to sign our e-petition nbr 43154 and onto how best can we deliver on phases 2 & 3 of the strategy. 

To remind you, the 3 phase WOW strategy is:

Phase One: Gain 100,000 signatures to give our demands democratic legitimacy in seeking parliamentary redress.

Phase Two: With a caucus of supportive MP’s gain as much as possible in the democratic & parliamentary process to stop the human rights abuses against us and restore our health and social security systems. Including debate, free votes, Cumulative Impact Assessment and independent inquiry.

Phase Three: Where parliament and inquiries fail us we will pursue justice through the courts both national and international for the human rights abuse perpetrated by the UK government and its associated corporate allies.

As you can see, phases 2 and 3 both rely in part on highlighting the alleged Human Rights Abuses being perpetrated on disabled people in the name of fairness.

At Amnesty International UK's AGM this year a consortium of grass roots disabled peoples organisations, I think it fair to say led by WOWpetition, presented a resolution as follows which was overwhelmingly passed.

Amnesty International UK: Resolution A5 as passed overwhelmingly 14/4/13

Proposer: Rick Burgess
Seconder: Nancy Farrell

This AGM:

Calls for urgent action by AIUK to halt the abrogation of the Human Rights of sick & disabled people by working with grassroots human rights campaigns by and for sick and disabled people, carers and their families.
And to set up a specialist Disability Human Rights network akin to the already existing-

Children's Human Rights network
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender network
Teach Rights
Trade Union network
Women's Action network

To protect the human rights of People with disabilities, ill people and carers to halt this regressive & lethal assault on our rights

I personally am disappointed by the lack of urgency in taking this resolution forward by Amnesty UK, who I believe intimated that they did not have the skills, experience or funding to pursue this vigorously.

Finally, you may have heard of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, which has been ratified as "soft law" in the UK. Not being a lawyer my understanding of this is that this allows the courts to consider the UNCRPD but they are free to ignore it.

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities
Article 3 - General principles

The principles of the present Convention shall be:
  1. Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons;
  2. Non-discrimination;
  3. Full and effective participation and inclusion in society;
  4. Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity;
  5. Equality of opportunity;
  6. Accessibility;
  7. Equality between men and women;
  8. Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.
The UK's compliance with this Convention is monitored by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)Do you think the UK complies with its obligations under this Convention? Do you even know what Equality of Opportunity is and how it differs from Equality of Treatment? Who should be informing the public of the difference:  The Politicians who refer to us as "Disabled Benefit Scroungers"? The EHRC? The UN? Finally, other than "we've always done it this way" can somebody please explain to me why the UNCRPD wasn't written into UK law and what we lose by it not being written in?

With all this in my mind I went last night to a Seminar on the Integration of National Equality and Human Rights Bodies hoping to become better informed.

This seminar was concerned with a report (Bridging the Divide) produced by Neil Crowther (Independent Consultant) and Colm O'Cinneide (Reader in Law, UCL) into how National Equality Bodies and National Human Rights Institutions in the EU could be integrated. This discussion focused on how Integration had been done in certain jurisdictions and how it was being approached in other jurisdictions. It was also stated that there is a common desire to improve protection across Europe. In my personal opinion the case for why we should integrate these bodies was not made and even though I am a Change Management Consultant I will leave my reservations about their methodology to one side at the moment until I have read the full report and not just the Executive Summary. Instead, I will focus on some of the comments made by the attendees.  
  • The point was made over and over again that where Equality and Human Rights had been integrated the budgets allocated were not sufficient to allow it to carry out a full and comprehensive service and choices had to be made. I had visions of John Cleese saying "Pregnant women step forward - you can have your human rights now. Terminally ill step forward - yes, no time to waste. Disabled people - sorry, maybe next year". Surely the point is that human rights are universal and anybody involved in the rationing of them to "deserving" cases could be interpreted as committing a human rights abuse by denying those rights to others. I was not personally aware there was such a crisis of funding in these bodies although on reflection it does not surprise me. Why wasn't I aware? The UK Disabled Peoples Council also lost their funding this year. Is there a pattern emerging? 
  • Following on from this, it was suggested that the EHRC was severely underfunded and was having to make operational choices about who it supports. You will remember that the EHRC is responsible for monitoring Government compliance with the UNCRPD. Has the EHRC the money to do its monitoring job properly? I have been told not expect the EHRC to be 'shouting' about these issues as being a publicly funded body and cannot be seen as politically partisan or as attacking the government in such a way. Whilst appreciating the politics and diplomacy called for, at some point if you are not being provided with sufficient resources to deliver the minimum acceptable service you either choose to accept you will be delivering a sub-optimal service or you lobby for a change or you try to publicise what is happening or you resign. Why don't they just say we haven't got enough money to do this job properly? The situation is so bad and it can only get worse. I think we have reached a tipping point.
    • Raquel Rolnik, the UN Special Rapporteur visited the UK in September and was critical of the impact of the bedroom tax. Also, 2/3 of the families affected by the bedroom tax have a disabled member. She drew the fire of the Conservative Party who called her a "loopy Brazilian leftie". Grant Shapps also asked the UN, "Were representations received from the British Labour Party, and from groups actively campaigning against the introduction of the policy?".  Does that mean the policing of Human Rights, Equality or the UNCRPD can only be carried out by people sympathetic to the Tory Party?
  • I referred to a decision by Worcestershire County Council who "adopted a policy (on 8 November 2012) under which – absent exceptional circumstances – the maximum weekly expenditure on care in the community for an adult under 65 years of age would be “no more than the net weekly cost…of a care home placement that could be commissioned to meet the individual’s assessed eligible needs”. This is in my opinion, in breach of the UNCRPD's right of autonomy. I was told that the EHRC had been involved in fighting this case alongside WeAreSpartacus and whilst the Judicial Review was lost (a judicial review only looks at the procedure followed, not the legal validity of the legislation) the Judge commented on Worcester Council's obligations, stating  “It will also be required to take into account its assurances during the consultation period – and in the course of this claim – that no individual will be forced into living in residential care, as a result of this policy alone.” That's OK then, as long as you remember that the law is still on the statute book, could still be used and is a continual worry to the people of both Worcester and the UK. How can such a law exist? The strain on disabled people when threatened with life in a care home could be such as to lead to them taking the decision that life is not worth living. 
  • I was honoured to speak at the 10,000 Cuts and Counting Service of remembrance in Parliament Square on the 28th September 2013. Also speaking were the Dean of St Paul's Cathedral The Very Reverend David Ison, Michael Meacher MP, John McDonnell MP, and other Campaigners for Disability Rights. More than 10,000 people have died within 6 weeks of being forced to submit to a Work Capability Assessment. Did it kill them? In some cases that is likely and has been mentioned in Coroners reports as a causal factor. Even in cases where it wasn't identified as a causal factor, is it right that in the last weeks of your life you are made to submit to an obtrusive vile test. The has to be a better fairer way! Not just Campaigners for Disability Rights, not just MPs but the Dean of St Paul's is connecting these deaths with this ConDem and the previous Government's Welfare reforms. Why can't the EHRC speak up about the Human Rights of potentially 10,000 people being abused. How many more have to die?  
There lies the problem. From my understanding the role of the EHRC in the main is to advise on pertinent issues & Bills in front of the house and then to enforce the law as it is written. Sometimes it is successful in this. Last night, during a debate on a successful amendment to the Care Bill, which saw the provisions of the Human Rights Act extended to all regulated care providers, several Peers referred to EHRC's briefing. However, once law is written the EHRC's job is to interpret policy and act to promote full compliance with the law. I feel taking the Govt to court after the event is too late. By then people may have had their life's blighted and their human rights infringed. Whose job is it to say these policies are dangerous and badly thought out?

Our system of democracy has 2 houses, the Commons and the Lords. Simply put, any law passed in the Commons has to be confirmed by the Lords. Following its passage through the Commons, The Welfare Reform Act 2012 was substantially amended by the Lords but these amendments did not make it into the statute book? This Government asserted that as it was so vital to their financial strategy to deal with the 0.5% of fraudulent claims for disability benefit they were entitled to use the Parliamentary device of "Financial Privilege" to force this bill through without the approval of the Upper House. So the Lords said the Welfare Reform Bill was flawed and got ignored. Whose job is it to say the policies are dangerous and badly thought out?

Campaigners like me are questioning policy. Our reward is for  Paul Maynard MP to label us "extremists" whilst hiding behind Parliamentary privilege. Don't be fooled. He hasn't apologised publicly to all he, but for Parliamentary Privilege, slandered. Whose job is it to say the policies are dangerous and badly thought out?

I would welcome Raquel Rolnik back to the UK with open arms as she is questioning not whether something is legal in the UK but whether it is right. Whose job is it to say the policies are dangerous and badly thought out?

The question is who do we allow to protect our human rights. The Government? Aren't they suggesting leaving the European Convention on Human Rights? The EHRC's main focus appears to be is advising before a Bill is passed, implementing after a Bill is passed into Law and taking legal action to endure compliance with the bill. Amnesty are in the midst of a funding crisis. I can't as I'm an "extremist". Whose job is it to say the policies are dangerous and badly thought out? 

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that our Government gives us Human Rights. Those Human Rights are ours to start with. All the Government does is take them away, although they would argue that is done for the common good! Whose job is it to say the policies are dangerous and badly thought out?

Talking about how you Protect and Deliver Human Rights and Equality is a very valid discussion. However, the aim is not to produce a process but to Protect and Deliver Human Rights and Equality. Whose job is it to say the policies are dangerous and badly thought out?

Human Rights and Equality bodies are seeing considerable reductions in their funding at precisely the time that Human Rights and Equality are under severe attack. Whose job is it to say the policies are dangerous and badly thought out?

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