Before I call Marion Fellows to move the motion, I wish to make a short statement about the sub judice resolution. I have been advised that the Government have applied to appeal the findings of the High Court in relation to the lawfulness of the UK disability survey. These proceedings are therefore live before the courts under the terms of the House’s sub judice resolution. However, Mr Speaker has exercised discretion to allow reference to the issues concerned, given their national importance. Nevertheless, Members should remember that these matters are still before the courts, and they are encouraged not to discuss the legal proceedings in any detail whatever. I would also like to remind Members of the advice on covid.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for the opportunity to raise these matters. Around the world, 1 billion people live with a disability. According to World Vision 20% of the world’s poorest live with a disability, and according to the UN around 80% of disabled people live in developing countries. Here in the UK, nearly half of disabled people—49%—live in poverty, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. In spite of that, disabled people’s rights at home and abroad have been consistently ignored and deprioritised by the UK Government.
The UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, or the UNCRPD, was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2006 and ratified in the UK in 2009. It introduced obligations to
“ensure and promote the full realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms”
for all disabled people, including taking into account
“the protection and promotion of the human rights of persons with disabilities”
when making and assessing policy. Following a parliamentary inquiry on disability and development in 2014, the UK committed to become a global leader on this neglected and under-prioritised area in its bilateral development review. However, eight years and a global pandemic later, we have seen glacial progress in the policy area of disability rights in the UK.
Last week, the second global disability summit was hosted by the International Disability Alliance, the Government of Norway and the Government of Ghana. The aim of the summit was to mobilise efforts for the implementation of the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, the principles of “leave no one behind” and building back better, and more inclusive programming with regards to covid-19. Although I was glad to see the UK Government making 18 commitments at last week’s summit, they will not meet the real needs of disabled people or allow us to do our duty as global citizens to protect the human rights of disabled people at home and abroad. Sadly, this was a missed opportunity once again, and the UK Government’s commitment fell way short of what is needed. Ahead of last week’s summit, the Scottish National party called on the UK Government to enshrine the UNCRPD in law. That was another missed opportunity to protect disabled people’s rights at home and abroad and to advance the rights of everyone.
The UN committee overseeing the UNCRPD not only called on the UK to incorporate the convention into legislation and allow domestic remedies for breaches in 2017, but has investigated the UK over “grave and systematic violations” of the convention in 2016. Although the UK Government recently published their progress in response to the recommendations late last year, the socioeconomic landscape for disabled people has changed beyond recognition since 2016, when the recommendations were made. Examples include coercion of disabled people or their carers to sign “do not resuscitate” orders, and failure to include disabled people in Government plans for financial and social support during the pandemic. Thus, disabled people’s rights remain a great cause for concern.
The Oxford University disability law and policy project and the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights report, “An Affront to Dignity, Inclusion and Equality”, published on 2 July 2020, referred to a
“failure of the government to implement properly its legal duties with respect to the rights of people with disabilities.”
The report stated:
“The government’s policymaking in response to the pandemic has failed to fulfil its own Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010 with respect to disabled people and its obligations under the United Nations Convention”.
Despite the progress that the UK Government claim to have made, disability organisations have expressed concerns to me and others that disabled people’s rights as set out in the convention are not being protected by the Government. One carer working with the Disabled Children’s Partnership shared her story:
“My name is Sarah, and I live in Devon with my daughter, who has an acquired brain injury...There is horrendous resentment towards disabled people in our society, and carers are massively undervalued. As one of the richest countries in the world with an apparent commitment to human rights, you would have thought the UK could respect disabled children and their families—but we are treated horrifically. We need to change attitudes, change services, and fight the injustices that affect disabled children and families”.
Another carer, Joanna, told me:
“The system is broken....It doesn’t get us the services we have a right to to live a good quality of life, and makes us spend a fortune. It needs reform”.
The national disability strategy, published last summer, committed to being “mindful” of the UNCRPD in its implementation—but being mindful of disabled people’s rights is just not enough. In Scotland, as part of taking forward the 30 progressive, bold and ambitious recommendations of the national taskforce for human rights leadership for a new human rights framework for Scotland, a new human rights Bill will be introduced to the Scottish Parliament during this parliamentary Session. The Bill will incorporate four international human rights treaties, including the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. It will be a significant and historical milestone in the Scottish human rights journey. It will give effect to a wide range of internationally recognised human rights—belonging to everyone in Scotland—as far as possible within devolved competence, and it will strengthen domestic legal protections by making them enforceable in Scots law. It will also demonstrate global human rights leadership, placing Scotland at the forefront of human rights legislation and, most importantly, practice. The inclusion of those rights will empower people, enabling them to claim and enforce their rights in multiple ways domestically, including in a Scottish court. Incorporation of the CRPD will give greater impetus to public bodies to remove barriers and support disabled people to participate fully in society, such as by being able to access information and services and living independently with dignity.
The Scottish Government have created a comprehensive delivery plan to help Scotland meet the requirements of the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People” was the Scottish Government’s delivery plan for that. It covered 2016 to 2021 and aimed to make equality of opportunity, access to services and independent living a reality for all disabled people in Scotland. Flowery phrases are all well and good, but setting challenging targets is the correct way to push forward on the rights of disabled people. That sometimes leads to not achieving all targets, but overall it leads to improvements in the lives of disabled people. The Scottish Government have committed to publishing a new disability equality plan, which will be published this year. Will the Minister follow the Scottish Government’s lead, commit to enshrining the UNCRPD in law and champion disability rights at home and on the global stage?
The UK Government have exhibited a continual pattern of deprioritising disability inclusion in their policy and decision-making processes. One of the key recommendations following the 2017 investigation by the UN committee into the UK’s implementation of the convention was to involve disabled people and disabled people’s organisations in planning and implementing all laws and policies affecting disabled people. The UK Government said that because the convention was ratified, all UK Government Departments “need” to consider it when developing policies that affect disabled people. However, UKIM, the UK independent mechanism for monitoring progress on the UNCRPD report, said in October 2018 that it
“remains seriously concerned about the continued failure of the UK Government to conduct an assessment of the cumulative impact on disabled people of multiple policy and law reforms in relation to living standards and social security.”
That was exemplified by the national disability strategy published in summer last year, which beyond being, frankly, a lot of bluff and bluster with no meaningful action, failed to consult disabled people in an adequate manner. Disabled people need more than warm words and a surface-level appearance of engagement with the disabled community. Will the Minister commit to properly engaging with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations in planning and implementing all laws and policies that affect disabled people at home and abroad?
Just last month, the High Court ruled that the UK Government’s attempt to involve disabled people and disabled people’s organisations in the consultation that shaped the strategy was both unlawful and inadequate. The chief executive officer of Disability Rights UK, speaking about the strategy, said that it was
“disappointingly thin on immediate actions, medium-term plans and the details of longer term investment”
and that there were
“scant plans and timescales on how to bring about vastly needed improvements to benefits, housing, social care, jobs, education, transport, and equitable access to wider society.”
Some of those issues are devolved, but I am not just talking about people in Scotland: I want people across the UK, especially those with disabilities, to have what is their right. I refer to what I said earlier about challenging targets and how the Scottish Government try to improve the lives of disabled people. On 3 February 2022, the Department for Work and Pensions was refused an opportunity to appeal against the High Court’s ruling. Notwithstanding what you have already said, Mr Stringer, will the Minister confirm whether the Department intends to apply for permission to appeal that decision to the Court of Appeal?
The organisation Sightsavers has raised concerns about the vagueness of the commitments made at the global disability summit last week and about a continual lack of transparency on the implementation of disability inclusion policy by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. For example, it has expressed concern about the UK Government’s commitments to move from equality awareness to equality transformation, which encourages collaborative work to empower women and girls, people with disabilities, and other socially marginalised people. The commitments made at that summit risk being little more than aspirational language with no measurable objectives and few or no financial commitments or plans to report results. While the Scottish Government welcome the UK Government’s commitment to fund the Global Action on Disability network, the FCDO has not made any other financial pledges in its commitments. Without tangible reporting on the results, they hold very little weight in upholding the UNCRPD and protecting disability rights on the global stage, so will the Minister join me in asking the FCDO to make the monitoring framework and action plan that will accompany the disability, inclusion and rights strategy available publicly?
Globally, disabled people are disproportionately impacted by poverty, natural disasters, healthcare barriers and covid-19, but they are still excluded from many aid programmes, which do not take disabled people’s needs into account. Unfortunately, we do not compare completely favourably in a global context, as here in the UK, poverty is consistently higher for disabled people. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, there is a gap of around 12 percentage points in poverty rates between disabled and non-disabled people.
The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, highlighted in a 2018 statement concerns about changes to legal aid since 2012, which he said had
“overwhelmingly affected the poor and people with disabilities”,
meaning that they were
“effectively deprived of their human right to a remedy.”
In November 2020, the UK Government announced that they intended to spend 0.5% of gross national income on official development assistance in 2021, down from 0.7% in the seven years from 2013. An unpublished impact assessment of the reductions, written in March 2021, reportedly concluded that this would result in a significant reduction in the number and size of programmes targeted at women, girls and disabled people.
World Vision found that less than 0.5% of all international aid targets disability inclusion. Aid was equivalent to less than $1 per person with disabilities in developing economies. The five most disability inclusion-focused donors target just 3% of their aid to this purpose. The SNP was front and centre of the attacks on the Government’s shameful decision to cut aid by over £4 billion this year and by £2.2 billion last year. The unpublished impact assessment I referred to found that this would result in a significant reduction in the number and size of programmes targeted at disabled people. Only six of the 1,161 aid programmes funded by the UK Government had disability inclusion as their primary objective in 2018.
The new disability inclusion strategy launched by the FCDO last week said that it will work to
“accelerate implementation of the UNCRPD”
globally by supporting Governments to fulfil their responsibilities under the convention through legislation and development and through improving local accountability mechanisms.
I congratulate the hon. Member for obtaining this debate; she is making an excellent opening speech. Would she agree that the UK Government must lead by example by implementing the convention here in the UK before they can preach to anybody on the world stage?
I totally agree with the hon. Member. That is one of the reasons I wanted this debate. I want the Government to commit. The FCDO’s new disability inclusion strategy said that it will work to accelerate the implementation of the UNCRPD globally. Well, as the hon. Member said, the Government cannot preach to others about what they have not done themselves. The strategy lacks any solid financial or measurable commitments to protect disability rights on the global stage.
Will the Minister join me in asking the FCDO to commit to tripling the number of aid projects that have disability inclusion as their primary objective by 2023, prioritising grassroots disability aid projects and ensuring that disabled people are not further excluded from global aid? Further, will she join me in asking the FCDO to commit to including disability in the eligibility criteria for applying for refugee status in the UK, in recognition of the disproportionate disadvantages disabled people face globally?
The UNCRPD seeks to ensure and promote the full realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all disabled people. Being “mindful” of human rights is not enough; the incorporation of the convention into domestic law will provide the legal enforcement and protection required. It is time for the UK Government to follow the UN committee’s recommendations, match Scotland’s ambition and enshrine the UNCRPD in law, to champion disability rights on the global stage and here in the UK.
This is a 90-minute debate and I intend to call the Front-Bench spokespeople at around 2.30 pm, so you can do the arithmetic yourself.
It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) on securing this debate, which is both important and very timely. I absolutely agree with the central tenets of her excellent speech, and I particularly agree with her on one point: how can we possibly preach internationally when we cannot get our own house in order?
However, I want to look at some of the positives. In the current context of global mayhem—I think that is probably the best way to refer to what is going on in the world at the moment—it is always good to see areas, and policy areas in particular, where countries can unite and show a joint commitment, although, as the hon. Member said, for the UK to be preaching internationally is not particularly seemly; let me put it that way.
The hon. Member mentioned the investigation that the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities undertook back in 2016, which happened because of the concern about the breaches that the UK Government were believed to be making, contrary to the articles in the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. As she rightly said, the committee found that the Government’s policies had led to “grave or systematic violations” of the rights of disabled people. I gave evidence to the committee back in 2016, but I will pay tribute to the hundreds of disabled people and disabled people’s organisations that really drove the committee’s inquiry.
The committee’s report emphasised the impact of changes to housing benefit entitlement, eligibility criteria for personal independence payment and social care, and the closure of the independent living fund. It showed that the austerity policies brought in by the Government in 2010 to reduce public spending, such as the destructive bedroom tax and the damaging cuts to the social security and social care budgets, are infringing the rights of disabled people. Despite the rhetoric from successive Administrations, we have seen sick and disabled people being failed consistently. And the response to the UN’s findings? The Government dismissed them out of hand.
In 2017, the committee held a session in Geneva to examine further the Government’s failures to protect and promote disability rights. During that session, once again we saw the UK Government obfuscate and dodge key questions from the committee that covered all articles in the convention. The UK was repeatedly told by the committee that it was not a global leader on disability rights, and the chair stated that cuts to social protection, which was how the committee referred to social security in the UK, were a “human catastrophe” that was being visited on disabled people.
The UK’s human rights watchdog stated that the examination by the UN had seen a “disconnect” between the UK Government’s replies and
“lived experiences of disabled people”.
In conclusion, the rapporteur stated that the committee was
“deeply concerned about the lack of recognition of the findings and recommendations of the conducted inquiry”.
The committee’s “concluding observations” report called on the Government to
“initiate a process to implement and follow-up the recommendations issued by the Committee”
in its inquiry report. Unfortunately, that never happened. Instead, as the hon. Member has already mentioned, we see an ongoing onslaught against disabled people, or at the very least action without any consideration of the impact on them, which is against the CRPD and against our own equality laws.
Just this week, we have seen the lifting of covid restrictions. Few people know that disabled people were more likely to die of covid than any other group—60% of covid deaths were of disabled people. There is an additional burden when we adjust for underlying conditions. There is still an extra risk that someone will die just because they are disabled. As the restrictions are lifted today, what assessment has there been of the impact on disabled people? Are they and their families being provided with free testing? What additional support is being provided if they still have to self-isolate?
Yesterday we had a debate in this very room about how children are being subjected to sexual exploitation and abuse. We heard about how those targeted were predominantly children and young people with disabilities and learning difficulties being groomed online. Everyone present at that debate—including the Minister—was rightly outraged. Where there are system failures in local institutions, councils and the police, they should be exposed and held to account. But what about the Government’s culpability? What assessment did they undertake of the risks to safeguarding, with council and police budgets cut to the bone?
A few weeks ago, the Government were yet again found to have unlawfully discriminated against disabled people in two cases. In view of your initial statement, Mr Stringer, I will not stretch that point, but I need to make people aware that the first case was to do with the consultation on the national disability strategy. I appreciate that the Government intend to appeal in that case, but the second case upheld an appeal that the Government had decided to pursue against two severely disabled men who had been transitioned on to universal credit after having been on employment and support allowance, with additional support in disability premiums. They had lost all those premiums, and the High Court upheld that that was a discriminatory act against them. The Government decided to appeal that decision, but it was upheld against them. The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw was absolutely right when she said that if the Judicial Review and Courts Bill is enacted, the first case that I mentioned—the one on which you, Mr Stringer, have said we must not go into detail—would not have even happened. That is what this Government are doing.
Yesterday I heard from a constituent about the only station in my Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency, which has appalling access issues. You probably know it, Mr Stringer. It has a bridge; if someone has mobility issues, there is no way they can get over it. They can go to Manchester, but they cannot come back. It has been decided that the disability toilet will be closed too, which is absolutely outrageous. We have been trying for years to get the Government to recognise that they are not enabling proper access for disabled people to go to work, which is what the Government say they want all disabled people to do.
It is the attack on disabled people through the social security system over the last decade that I want to close on. A few weeks ago, the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2022 was laid before the House. It announced a 3.1% uplift in social security support from April, including for disabled people. We know that inflation is currently running at 5.5% and is estimated to increase to more than 7% in the spring, which is, in effect, a real-terms cut in support to social security claimants.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has identified a cut in support to disabled households of £6,500 since 2010 as a result of cuts to social security and public services. Accordingly, half of the households living in poverty have a disabled person living in them. I recently asked the Work and Pensions Secretary what assessment had been made of the impact of the 3.1% uprating on disabled people, but one had not been undertaken. Again, that is contrary to our equality laws, and it just shows the lack of commitment to disabled people at home and abroad.
Yesterday, the Work and Pensions Committee took evidence on pensioners living in poverty. I am sure you will not be surprised, Mr Stringer, that disabled people are disproportionately represented in that group as well. There are sanctions targeted at disabled people, woeful health assessments—I could go on. Separate from the covid deaths, we have no idea of the scale of the deaths of disabled people, because this Government are not making that transparent. It is an absolute disgrace that our public policies contribute to the deaths of our most vulnerable citizens.
I have been calling for an independent inquiry into this for a number of years and I will not stop until that happens. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw for bringing this debate forward, because this Government’s treatment of disabled people is an outrage.
I appreciate being called to speak early in the debate, Mr Stringer. I am nearly always at the end of the queue. I am not worried about that, by the way—I always think that getting to speak is more important than when I am called. The good book says that the first shall be last and the last shall be first; today, I have been elevated to one of the first, so I am very pleased.
When the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) asked me, as I am sure she did everyone, “Would you come down and speak?” I did not have to be asked twice, because this subject is of particular interest to me. I will mention a couple of things that I think will resonate with other Members present. I thank the hon. Lady for her tireless work on behalf of those with disabilities—I want to put that on the record. It is often said in this House, but she truly is a disabilities champion. I have heard the word “champion” used so many times in the Chamber that I think it has lost its importance, but when I say it today, I mean it. I want her to know that.
The hon. Lady has perfectly underlined that we have obligations to those with disabilities. I share her frustration and that of the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), who is a good friend as well. I say this respectfully to the Minister and the Government, but I have seen how the Government pick and choose how they interpret those obligations. In Northern Ireland, they chose to interpret the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women as a legal obligation; they circumvented the Northern Ireland Assembly and, in so doing, circumvented the principle of devolution. That is not what this debate is about, but I just want to put that on the record.
At the same time, the Government have refused to uphold the protections to prevent unborn babies from being terminated for a disability as repairable as a cleft lip. Under their interpretation, having Down’s syndrome is reason enough not to live. I find that absolutely unbelievable and reprehensible. I believe we are witnessing something that is morally wrong, and I do not think I will ever be able to understand or accept that rationale. The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw has outlined many further failings of this Government pertaining to our obligations to disabled people.
I want a society where disabled people have the same rights and opportunities as we have and where they are treated equally. That is the society I want to live in. Maybe I dream too much, or maybe, through this debate, we have an opportunity to express the hope that every one of us can have the same opportunities in life.
I want to give some examples to illustrate the issues raised by the hon. Lady, although they are absolutely frustrating. I have a full-time member of staff in my office who is dedicated solely to filling out forms for those who are unwell. Unfortunately, she is never out of work. Her name is Yvonne; she is an important member of staff. All my staff are important, of course, but Yvonne has a very important role to play. I wish I could bring her here to explain in her own down-to-earth way the living nightmare that some of our disabled people endure to get their disability benefits.
One of my constituents, Sharon, was born with a severe mental impairment. I know the young lady and her now elderly parents, who have cared for her for 50 years. Due to the distressed mental impairment she has, she used to simply watch the TV and walk up and down the living room. However, she is now 50, and her mobility has decreased. After 50 years of being on her feet, pacing up and down the hall, she needs hip replacements. There is something seriously wrong when a Government Department questions whether such an operation is necessary when it is very obvious that it is. In this case, there was a successful conclusion, but only after a fight. Everything I do for disabled people is a fight, and there are always so many obstructions put in front of us.
Consultants have questioned Sharon’s ability to go through rehab after the operation and do not feel it will be successful. She cannot deal with the pain of walking and mentally cannot deal with sitting down for prolonged periods, because that is how her condition affects her. Her disability living allowance, as it was then called, was up for renewal. After that was explained, a house call was set up and Sharon was asked to do a number of physical exercises that she was physically and mentally unable to do. Her parents told me that she screamed for hours afterwards due to the upset that it caused her. Is that fulfilling our obligation? No, with great respect, I do not think it is. Her medical records clearly indicated her difficulties, yet the form-filling and the check-box exercise put her and her elderly parents through an awful time getting her benefits, which should never have been in question.
My brother Keith was injured in a motorbike accident some 18 years ago. It left him unable to do multiple tasks. Every one of us in this room is blessed. We can walk down to the room below; we can chat and walk, have a drink and eat a biscuit, use a mobile phone—we can multitask. He can only do one thing at a time, let alone fill in all the questionnaires that our mother and I have to go through as his court appointees. We are appointed by the court because he does not have the ability to look after his financial affairs. That is a fact of life; it is what happens. But then a Department comes along with so many exercises for someone to go through that they feel downtrodden and burdened almost before they even start. They are asked, “Can you stand on one leg?” Keith cannot stand on one leg; he would fall over. People such as Sharon, the young lady I mentioned, are asked to do things that they cannot physically do, which should be clear from their notes.
That is the story of just one of my constituents, many of whom suffer from mental health issues. They are put through the mill when a cursory glance at their medical records would show everything that needs to be shown. I welcome efforts to get those who are able to work back to work; I want them to do that, and they want to get back to work too, if possible. But tormenting—I use that word on purpose—people who are unable to is simply not acceptable. It is time that our definition of “disabled” gave more protection than the disability discrimination Act offers at this stage.
I represented a constituent with ulcerative colitis who worked for the civil service. She had her DDA form in, but she was still medically retired at the age of 27. She is a lovely young girl; I have known her since she was a wee tote, as we would say back home, and I know her parents very well. The civil service could not find a flexible way of working around her disability, so I went to appeal with her as her DLA said she was able to care for herself. Really? Had they not comprehended the seriousness of the issue? One Department said, “You’re fine” and another said, “You’ll never work again,” and the doctor was saying, “Give her antidepressants to deal with the upset and effect of it all.” I question whether those Departments work hand in hand.
I know that others want to speak, so let me conclude with this. How dreadfully sad it is that the Government’s own employees do not have the flexibility to allow them to stay in work when they so desperately want to do so, especially now that staff can easily and effectively work from home.
I commend the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw, the other hon. Members who have spoken and those who will contribute later. I am confident that the Members here today, as well as others who are not present, have compassion for the people we are here to help—those with disabilities and those who cannot cope with the troubles of life in the way that we can. We are privileged to be Members of Parliament and to be able to help others, and to get paid to do it. One of my great pleasures is helping people who are disabled and those who have real problems on the journey of life that they tread, and today’s debate gives us an opportunity to do that.
Something must be done about the way that our disabled people are viewed and treated—not by those speaking in the debate and not by the Minister, but we really need central Government and the civil service to have a better grasp. The change needs to start in this place and work its way down. All the disabled people we are speaking on behalf of today should have the benefit of a Government with compassion and a system that understands them, and should get the help they need when they need it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Stringer. I normally speak before the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), so it is an honour to follow him this afternoon. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) for drawing attention to this important topic. I want to commend her and my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) for ensuring that this issue is always at the forefront of their campaigning, and for giving a voice to many constituents across our respective constituencies. In these two Members of Parliament we see fantastic champions for disabled people.
As we know, the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities was a landmark treaty, signed in 2007. It places a positive obligation on Governments to promote the full equality of disabled people under the law. It is fantastic that over 200 countries recognise the convention. However, I want to take a moment to reflect on what it says about the place of disabled people in society, both here and abroad, that we even need to state that disabled people are fully equal citizens. Surely that is so obvious that it should not need to be said, but too often we see disabled people and accessibility treated as an afterthought. Often it is not conscious discrimination, but a reflection of how much society is built around those who are not disabled.
I confess that I was not fully aware of the scale of the issue until a wheelchair user joined my team. Walking around with him, even in this place, I have seen at first hand the small everyday things that he is disadvantaged by: a dropped kerb on the side of the road that is not matched by the one on the other side, public venues that do not have a disabled toilet, and light switches that are placed far too high for him to reach. I could go on, but my point is that disabled people simply should not have to put up with workaround solutions to simple everyday activities, such as turning on lights. These are things that, if we are honest, most of us in this room take for granted.
Sadly, I have heard from several constituents in Vauxhall who have invisible disabilities, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or dyspraxia, who are afraid to speak out and ask for the support they need in the workplace for fear of being judged. These experiences are replicated for millions of people up and down the country who do not have their access needs met. It will not change until we start to take the UN convention’s words seriously and proactively consider accessibility in the planning, design and organisation of everything we do—it must be front and centre. By fixing problems with a sticking-plaster here and there, we will never truly live up to our UN obligations.
Any of us could become disabled at any time, so prioritising access future-proofs all of us and enables the valued perspectives of disabled people to be heard. Will the Minister please ensure that accessibility is no longer treated as an afterthought, and work on a cross-party basis to deliver the transformative change that disabled people need and deserve?
It is a pleasure to speak under your stewardship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) on securing this important debate and on her continued campaigning and championing of such an important issue.
The UN convention on the rights of disabled people—I will say disabled people because I subscribe to the social model of disability, so I will refer to it in that context going forward—is timely because it follows the global disability summit, which was the second of its kind. Many of us will remember that the first summit was hosted by the UK, and I made a number of comments back then about the Government leading by example. Disappointingly, we have progressed in years but there is still no change from the Government.
The convention was established in 2006, and it was the last Labour Government who ratified it. Twelve years on, there has been no implementation of it by this Government. As other hon. Members have asked: why is that?
The pillars of the convention are to ensure health, education, employment, access to justice and information, personal security and, most importantly, independent living for disabled people. It is the benchmark, the blueprint, the gold standard of all policy making to ensure that disabled people can live independently and that we have equal rights: it is about equality. If we say that we are serious about equality, the convention must absolutely be the blueprint for it.
Unfortunately, during more than a decade of austerity we have seen cuts to social security, to social care and to every public service. As I continue to say, that has created a hostile environment for disabled people. Almost half of people in poverty in this country are disabled or live with a person who is disabled. I think we all know, as we proceed further through a cost of living crisis, that that is only going to get worse. The convention is clear on support for disabled children, but there is a gaping funding gap of more than £2 billion in support for those disabled children. Their families report that they are struggling to support them without adequate support.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) mentioned, the independent living fund—the clue is in the title—was cut and scrapped, and was not replaced with a proper independent living fund or support to enable disabled people to live independently. What is the Minister doing to support people in social care? Although the funding that was announced last year is welcome, we all know that it certainly is not enough, because more than 18,000 people’s access to care and support has been affected by the cut.
We all know about the social security cuts; we were all here for the debate about them that I led a few weeks ago. The cuts to employment and support allowance, which remove the work-related activity component, and the changes to PIP have made things incredibly difficult for ill and disabled people. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth highlighted, we need an independent public inquiry into the deaths caused by the cuts. As we all know, far too many people have lost their lives—let that sink in—as a result of cuts to their social security, which is the very thing that is supposed to be a safety net enabling us to live. Sadly, that is happening on this Government’s watch.
I appreciate that the Minister is not the Minister for Disabled People, but ultimately, she is the one who is here and she is responsible, so I really hope that when she responds, she will address some of these issues.
As a result of the cuts to all those services and support, the UK became the first nation state to be investigated for human rights violations against disabled people. That highlights that everything we had been lobbying and campaigning for before I even entered this place was true. I commend the thousands of disabled people who really fought for that investigation to take place. What did the UN committee conclude? Members have already said it, but we cannot say it enough: in 2016, the UK Government were guilty of “grave or systematic violations” of the rights of disabled people. I want the Minister and everyone here to let that sink in. They are some of the most vulnerable people in our society. How can that be right?
What is more worrying is that since the UN commissioner looked at independent living, social security, the right to work and so on, the Government have been required to provide annual updates to the UN committee, but in last year’s update they failed yet again to address the main challenges. Why? Why will the Government not carry out a cumulative impact assessment on all those areas, including independent living, poverty and inclusion in our communities and in employment? I and many other Members from across the House have called for that, but there has been no progress. The years of inaction raise the question: are the Government taking that UN inquiry seriously?
We know the impact that the pandemic has had on disabled people; the numbers do not lie. Six out of 10 covid-related deaths were of people who had underlying health conditions or were disabled. That is a scandal. At the start of the pandemic the Government failed to provide proper signed interpretation; they were found to be liable for that in the courts—we know that happened. We also know that the £20 uplift to universal credit was not applied to those on legacy social security, 2 million of whom were ill and disabled people.
The pandemic has really shone a light on how badly this Government are treating disabled people. This week, when the Prime Minister declared the end of all restrictions, there was still no plan on how we are going to protect the most vulnerable, some of who are disabled. Where is this plan and where is the equality impact assessment? Ultimately the Government do have an obligation to do that.
Other Members have spoken about the issues around consulting disabled people and their organisations. I will not go into detail on the national disability strategy, because the Government are planning to appeal the High Court decision ruling it unlawful. Let us be clear: that is just another decision in a long line of court rulings where the Government were found to be acting unlawfully against disabled people. The Labour party has been clear in its support for disabled people, and we will continue to hold this Government to account for their treatment of disabled people. As I said at the start, we ratified the UN convention; it is time for the Government to implement it. I ask the Minister to tell us why the Government are still choosing not to, and when they will implement it. Does she agree with all of us that the convention should be implemented? That would be a good start.
We disabled people make up a large proportion of the UK population. We face a cost of living crisis. There are so many challenges confronting all of us in society, but we must give a thought to those who are so vulnerable, many of whom are disabled. I ask the Minister, please, to consider that when she responds.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Stringer. I think it is a really important debate, and I am very pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) secured the time today and delivered an excellent speech, which covered many important issues. I know that she, like the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), is very focused on this issue, and I have no doubt that she will continue to be. I hope that the important questions that she put to the Minister are answered, because I have no doubt that she will keep asking them; they really matter. The other speeches today have underlined why that is the case: the impact of inaction on the lives of disabled here and across the world is profound. The additional vulnerabilities that often come with a disability make that doubly concerning as we—hopefully—emerge from the covid pandemic.
We have heard from hon. Members about the important voices of disability organisations. I will take a moment to refer to one of those located in my constituency. East Renfrewshire Disability Action group do a powerful job advocating at home, but also for people further afield, on disability issues. We heard a familiar tale about access issues; I know that East Renfrewshire Disability Action group would find that tale very familiar. The power of the work that goes on, day in and day out, is a testament to those groups. It should also give us pause for thought as to why groups of disabled people are having to do the heavy lifting that should be done in Parliament. The hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) spoke very powerfully about why that matters.
The remarks of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) were key, because she spoke about big and small things, and why both matter. She spoke very clearly about why disabled people should not have to put up with the lack of focus in this place. It speaks ill of us all—and of our priorities—that that undoubtedly is the case. I commend her for pointing out the importance of recognising invisible disabilities in the context of this conversation.
As we all know, and as I am sure the Minister would recognise, the inequalities that people with disabilities face in everyday life have been exacerbated during the pandemic. As my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw said, in the UK half of people with a disability live in poverty. Progress in moving that on in recent years has been very slow, and I fear that covid has arrested it entirely. My hon. Friend also noted that although the SNP welcomes the UK Government’s 18 commitments at this year’s global disability summit, the FCDO has not gone far enough in that regard. The commitments do not meet the needs of disabled people.
That takes us to the vexed issue that we have heard about from a number of hon. Members—the UK Government’s failure to agree to enshrine in law the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, which the Scottish Government will do. The hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) outlined very well that the UK Government cannot preach to others when they are not even taking that very straightforward action themselves. We need to think about all of that in the context of the new reality that covid has wrought.
Around 1 billion people in the world are living with a disability. Some 80% of them are in developing countries, and there are higher levels of disability among women, the poor and the elderly. We can read that through to lots of other vulnerabilities that really exacerbate the situation. We have noted the reason why that really matters for policy making, but having listened to the debate so far, my concern is that the UK Government’s “being mindful” approach is not bold enough, is not ambitious enough, and will not deal with the inequalities that people face daily. The hon. Member for Battersea hit the nail on the head when she talked about that in the context of equality, which is what this is all about: it is about the lack of equality for disabled people, which leads to what is often almost a hostile environment for people to try to navigate. That clearly should not be the case, but it is the situation that people face here in the UK and globally. We have a responsibility here to acknowledge that, and to act. As we heard from the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth, the additional vulnerability is not factored into the UK Government’s decision making. That means that we are in a somewhat difficult situation in trying to pin down some of the challenges that people have, which is extraordinary, because we do not have the data to allow us to do so.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw eloquently set out, the Scottish Government have a number of concerns in relation to the UK Government’s decision not to enshrine the UNCRPD in law. Their commitments do not contain enough detail about measurable objectives; the language is rather vague, to say the least, so it is difficult for us to see how the UK Government will be able to provide tangible results. As I said, such things are not measurable or quantifiable, so I hope the Minister can say something about my hon. Friend’s questions on that.
We have called for progress on a number of things, and it would also be good to hear from the Minister on the number of aid projects that have disability inclusion as their primary objective, and on the UK’s support for grassroots disability aid projects. We should ensure that there are proactive steps to prevent further exclusion of disabled people from global aid, and we must look at disability in the context of the eligibility criteria for applying refugee status. Those are only some of the issues on which the UK Government need to make progress. Of course, there is also the issue of the percentage spend on official development assistance, which is something that underpins all that and is a cause for significant concern. The reality is that many aid projects are not specifically aimed at disability inclusion, so disabled people are often left behind in aid spending.
Whether we are looking here or farther afield, the bottom line is that poverty is consistently higher for disabled people, and that impacts on life chances and choices. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, there is a gap of around 12% in poverty rates between disabled and non-disabled people.
The hon. Member for Strangford was very powerful in setting out why, on the domestic front particularly, we need to see progress to improve the life chances and life choices for disabled people, and to ensure that basic dignity is available for them. The hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth spoke very powerfully about the failures of the UK social security system in terms of disability. I do not intend to repeat all that she said, but I hope that the Minister has some responses to her points, because those issues make such a difference to people’s daily lives.
I would, however, like to speak about the missing employment Bill, which I would dearly love to see appearing. I have been saying that for a long time, so I am not sure that I hold out a huge amount of hope. However, it is important—and increasingly so, as we move out of the pandemic—that we have the opportunity to look again at things like flexible working, which can make such a difference to people’s ability to secure and sustain employment. That kind of issue, which really has a profound effect on the lives of disabled people, is an illustration of why all the elements of policy need to be considered by the UK Government when they are looking at disability and how best to move things forward.
I will conclude by asking that the Minister responds to the key questions that have been put. I am reinforcing that this issue really matters, because the impact on people’s lives cannot be understated. Disabled people need far more than our warm words and positive sentiments. We must ensure that we are taking action that goes right below the surface to improve the lives of people here and across the world. The best way to start doing that is for the UK Government to step up, enshrine the convention in law, and take some of the clear, positive steps set out today.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank everyone who has contributed today. I highlight in particular the work of the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows), and congratulate colleagues from across the House, including my hon. Friends the Members for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova), for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) and for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), and, indeed, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), on their contributions. I am grateful to them for raising such important issues.
I also pay tribute both to disabled people and to the organisations that represent them. In particular, I thank those who carry out important work in the constituency of Reading East, which I have the privilege of representing, both in the town of Reading and in the neighbouring town of Woodley.
It is important that the decisions we take in this House are led by disabled people and experts, and informed by experience. As we have heard, in 2009 the UK pledged to follow the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, on the basis that it protects and promotes the human rights of disabled people, including by eliminating disability discrimination, enabling disabled people to live independently in the community, ensuring an inclusive education system and that disabled people are protected from all forms of exploitation, violence and abuse. I am glad that that there is agreement across the House on that, and we are right to seek to take it forward. I believe that we must go much further in our efforts to uphold human rights and equality for disabled people, and that is why the UN convention on the rights of disabled people should now be incorporated into British law.
I should also add that I am proud of the last Labour Government’s record on improving the lives of people with disabilities, whether in cutting NHS waiting times, introducing free bus travel—a subject very dear to my heart, as those who know me well may remember—and introducing the Equality Act 2010. We know that well-designed policies, implemented and resourced well, and delivered properly, can transform the lives of disabled people.
I also pay tribute to the individual efforts of many Ministers and Government staff and Back Benchers during the years of the coalition and Conservative Governments. However—and I would like the Minister to reflect on this—there is so much more we should be doing.
Figures published last month show that 1 million more disabled people are trapped in hardship than were a decade before. Data from the Department for Work and Pensions reveal that 3.8 million disabled people live in poverty. We have heard eloquently from colleagues today about the pressure that that puts on disabled people and their families. I am sure that that is a trend that colleagues across the House would like to reverse.
As the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw said, it is worth considering that a recent report by the Oxford University disability law and policy project and the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights found that there has been a
“failure of the government to implement properly its legal duties with respect to the rights of people with disabilities.”
That is set against the backdrop of a significant lack of appropriate support for disabled people during the pandemic. Almost 2 million ill and disabled people did not receive any additional support, despite the fact that disabled people on average face additional costs of £583 per month. In addition, as was said earlier, while universal credit was temporarily increased by £20 a week—we supported that decision and indeed campaigned for it to continue—it is important to note that other social security support such as the employment and support allowance and the jobseeker’s allowance were not increased. The pandemic has hit everyone in our community, but it is wrong that it should have a particularly hard impact on disabled people. I am afraid that that lack of support is part of a wider picture of the Government failing to give disabled people the support that they need.
I appreciate the point you made earlier, Mr Stringer, about the sub judice nature of some of the issues with the national strategy for disabled people, so I will try to stick to the ruling that you rightly made, but I will say that there were two years of delay before the strategy was published in July 2021. Even when it did arrive, it appeared not to be the bold strategy that so many people had looked forward to, but more a series of unrelated announcements, with only £4 million of extra money pledged for disabled people, which amounts to just under £30 for each disabled person in the UK, a relatively modest amount. Disabled people and the organisations representing them said that they felt excluded from the process and had not been consulted when the strategy was drawn up.
That is all deeply disappointing. The Government could and should do so much better. I ask the Minister to look at that again in much greater detail with her colleagues—I appreciate that it is not her area of responsibility—and, collectively, to change their approach fundamentally, to give disabled people the support that they so clearly need.
Eliminating disability discrimination, enabling disabled people to live independently in the community, ensuring an inclusive education system and that disabled people are protected from all forms of exploitation, violence and abuse must be a priority for all of us. The Government should now incorporate the UN convention into UK law. That important legal change will have real effect in the everyday lives of disabled people.
It has been a privilege to speak today and to contribute to this important debate. Once again, I thank colleagues from across the House who have also contributed, and I thank disabled people and the organisations that represent them. I hope that the Minister will take on board the points made by colleagues from across the House and respond by letting us know how the Government plan to address these very serious issues.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) on securing this debate on the importance of the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. It is a pleasure to respond, and I thank all hon. Members for their insightful contributions. I am here on behalf of the Minister for Disabled People, who is disappointed that she cannot be here today, due to a medical appointment.
The principles in the UN convention are at the heart of the Government’s approach. We remain fully committed to the treaty, which we ratified in 2009, as has been mentioned, and to our obligations under it. No one wants to see any of their constituents held back from fulfilling their potential. I reassure all hon. Members that the UK Government and the devolved Administrations share the common goal to improve the lives of disabled people in the UK.
Will the Minister give way?
I will just make some progress, if I may. I would also like to share with the House that for nearly 30 years, my father lived with an acquired brain injury due to a criminal incident at work. It turned us into a family who cared, and I applaud all unpaid and family carers for all they do with the utmost love and care.
First, I will speak to the action we are taking as a Government to improve the lives of disabled people. In July 2021, we published the national disability strategy. Of course, we have sought permission to appeal and cannot comment further on any legal proceedings, but it is really important to highlight the five essential elements of that strategy, which complement those of the UN convention and underpin how we will continue to implement it in the UK. Those elements are to ensure fairness and equality; to consider disability from the outset; to support independent living; to work to increase participation by disabled people in all aspects of society; and to recognise that complex challenges will very often require joined-up local solutions.
I extend my best wishes to the Minister’s father. What she has said about what he went through was very moving, and reminds us that eight out of 10 disabilities are acquired—that most disabled people have lived lives without disability. The Minister started by saying that we want disabled people to fulfil their potential. Do the Government believe that there is a social model of disability, in that society puts up barriers that prevent disabled people from living their lives? It is not up to disabled people to enable themselves; it is also about society, via the Government, ensuring that those barriers are not there.
Just before the Minister responds, I remind hon. Members that interventions should be short and to the point. We have had plenty of time in this debate, but I hope hon. Members will bear that in mind.
Thank you, Mr Stringer, and I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words. It was quite ironic that during his working life, my father was the first person to put in supported disabled crossings for people with blindness, and became blind later in life due to his acquired injury. It is very important for all of us in policy making to understand that people are not necessarily born with a disability or a health condition.
The hon. Lady mentioned her train station. We have similar access issues in East Grinstead in my constituency, and we are trying to improve them. The Department for Transport also has an access programme under way, so she may want to look at that.
I echo the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), and commend the Minister for sharing her father’s story. Is the Minister aware, however, that we were supposed to meet our obligation to deliver an accessible transport service by 2020, but we failed to meet that target? The Access for All fund was very welcome, but we are not doing very well when it comes to making our stations more accessible.
The hon. Lady makes an important point: I have not even mentioned my Wivelsfield station, so the reality is that we still have work to do. I know that my hon. Friend the Rail Minister, the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), is very committed to that.
The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw, who opened the debate so eloquently, asked about committing to spending on aid projects, and I will address that later in my speech. I am trying to cover various points, so I hope hon. Members will bear with me while I make progress.
Alongside the Government’s national disability strategy, we have published the health and disability Green Paper and the Government’s response to the “Health is everyone’s business” consultation on minimising the risk of ill health and related job loss. Those publications demonstrate that we are taking a holistic approach to improving the lives of individuals living with disability. I think it is important for anybody listening and engaging with this debate to notice and to know that progress is being made. Of course, there is always more to do.
Significant progress has been outlined in the national disability strategy. At the DWP, we have piloted the adjustments passport, which supports disabled people’s transition into employment. The passport is personalised to the individual and captures in-work support needs, enabling the employer to have an informed conversation with the passport holder—we have just heard about flexible working. In addition, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has launched an online advice hub offering accessible information and advice on employment rights for disabled people.
BEIS has also completed a consultation on making flexible working—we have seen hybrid working too—the default in Great Britain unless employers have good reasons not to offer it, and it is reviewing the responses. I think that consultation is crucial and necessary. The pandemic has given us an opportunity to bust the myth of presenteeism and show that, moving forward, many sectors can be flexible and work in a hybrid way and can absolutely be inclusive of people who are disabled or living with a health condition. That will make opportunities so much more accessible for our constituents, which is what we all want.
I want to turn to the comments made by the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth on the pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, the Government have worked hard to ensure that disabled people have access to employment support, disability benefits, financial support, food, medicines and vaccines, as well as accessible communications and guidance. I, like other Members, had constituents asking for all of that and more, and I am glad that we have been able to respond.
Of course, the NHS is offering new antibody and antiviral treatments for people with covid-19 who are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill, such as those who are immunosuppressed or face other risks. There is separate guidance and there will be additional boosters coming forward as well, which many of our constituents may be eligible for. It is important that we let people know, whoever they are and whatever is going on in their lives, that when it comes to the challenges of living well out of the covid-19 pandemic, we recognise that we must understand the impact on those with a disability or health condition. We are absolutely committed to that.
The Prime Minister made clear in launching the national strategy that we fully recognise the need not only to deliver on our near-term commitments but to go further. I can assure the House that we are doing so. As an example, in the autumn 2021 spending review, we provided an extra £1 billion via the Department for Education to support children and young people with more complex needs, including those with a disability. That will bring the total high-needs budget next year to over £9 billion.
It has been mentioned that work is an important part of disabled people’s lives. It is absolutely right that we in the DWP place the emphasis on supporting people into work where possible. Of course, we know how valuable that is. It is more than just a pay packet; it is camaraderie, friendship, and a reason to get up and get going. It makes such a difference to be part of a team and to achieve what we are able to achieve. I am passionate that, whoever someone is, wherever they are and whatever barriers to progression they may face, if they are able to work, they should be well supported to fulfil their potential by the Government, the community and jobcentres.
On that point, it is also important that employers understand their responsibility to ensure that their employee is respected in every way and has the opportunities that every other employee has.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that really important point. I recently had some engagement with the construction industry about really good, inclusive work practices, reaching out and being more equal. For example, 50% of the population—females—is under-represented in the sector.
Many employers often do the same recruitment and end up with the same people. They want to be more inclusive; they want the different voices and experiences that we have found so important this afternoon, but unfortunately we end up recruiting the same people because recruitment processes are not open and wide enough. We need to do more.
I wanted to put that on the record because the Minister is right. A recent headline said:
“Swindon man with Down’s syndrome gets scaffolding apprenticeship”.
There is an example of what can happen if you put your mind to it.
I have found this through our 160-plus youth hubs at DWP. Many people have neurodiversity. Young people have been very anxious and nervous. It has been really great to give people that “can-do” experience; it makes such a difference, in terms of being inclusive. People with a disability or a health condition are absolutely perfect for some jobs, and it will be right for them to be in that workplace. Let us challenge employers. Let us not just talk about it, but push for action. I am proud that DWP has led the way in supporting disabled people by recognising what they need in order to get into employment. We are there to help.
The Minister has spoken enthusiastically about employment, and I agree about the value of ensuring that everyone can secure the employment opportunities that they absolutely deserve. Can she shed any light on the employment Bill mentioned earlier, which would assist us?
I thank the hon. Lady. If the Bill fell in my portfolio and that of my Department, I could shed many lights on it, but I am afraid it sits with BEIS. I am sure that it will take note of the hon. Lady’s query.
On levelling up opportunities, the work and health programme offers intensive personalised employment support, and we are working with the NHS to improve access to psychological therapy services across England. There are also measures under the access to work scheme, which provides employees with grants of up to £62,900 a year for workplace adaptations, such as special equipment, support workers and help to get to and from work. Last financial year, almost 36,000 people with disabilities and health conditions received tailored and flexible support to do their job under access to work. Not enough people know that that is out there, and I am pleased to make the point today.
Disability Confident is another really important part of the package. We talked about employers seeing the value of having a mixed group of people in their workplace. It is a voluntary, business-led scheme, designed to give employers the knowledge, skills and free resources they need to recruit and retain disabled people, and to help them to develop their skills. As of 30 September, over 20,000 employers were actively engaged with the scheme, which covers more than 11 million employees. It is right that we push harder on this, and we will do that through our national employer partnership.
The Minister talks about the Disability Confident scheme. More than 4 million disabled people of working age want to work. While she may applaud the 35,000 figure, it is not enough. An employer can be a Disability Confident employer and not employ a single disabled person. What quality assurance and monitoring is there to ensure that the scheme will provide for disabled people? At the moment, I am not confident in it.
I thank the hon. Lady for making that point. If I may, I will let the Minister for disabled people, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), pick up on that issue and write to her.
I turn to international engagement—the hon. Lady who introduced the debate, the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw, would be upset if I did not. It is right to emphasise that the UK has a proud record of furthering the rights of disabled people. We have not got it all right, but we are using our overseas development work to go further, and we always have to do more. The UK is a leading global voice on disability inclusion; it hosted the first ever global disability summit, which was mentioned.
Will the Minister give way again on that point?
I need to make progress. I may try to come back to the hon. Lady.
In the same year, we also launched the disability inclusion strategy, setting out our priorities for social protection, economic development, education and humanitarian action. On our commitments to progress on disability inclusion in the FCDO’s diplomacy, policy and programming—
Will the Minister give way?
I am speaking, if I may. The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw will be pleased to know that we are publishing on gov.uk all the details of the ways in which we absolutely are being more inclusive in our aid programme. I hope that is something she will ask for. On our support for global disability rights, we have committed to spending £10 billion in 2021-22, making the UK’s official development assistance, as I mentioned, disability-inclusive. I am very pleased to see that coming forward. We are absolutely committed to implementing the convention through our strong policies. [Hon. Members: “Will the Minister give way?”] I have given way enough, thank you.
On the treaties that were mentioned, the Government are absolutely sure that the substantive provisions are already largely reflected in our existing domestic policies and legislation right across the UK. We note the recommendations, but the Government’s approach is to put in place a combination of policies and legislation to give effect to the UN human rights treaties that we have already ratified.
I need to give the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw some time to respond, so I will try to do that, after making a final point. I would like to underline fully this Government’s commitment to the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, and to transforming the lives and opportunities of disabled people, both in the UK and internationally. We are unwavering, and I hope that the announcements last week will sit right with those listening today. We will continue with the wide-ranging commitments made in the national disability strategy. We will consider how we can build on that and go further, making sure that disabled people’s lives are better every day, and we will do that in the context of a central goal: to level up, and to create a society that is more positive, more engaging, and fairer for all, where everybody can get on and progress.
I congratulate the Minister on her robust defence of what I will not refer to as the indefensible, though that is there in my thoughts. She has done a grand job—she has a job, and she has done it—but unfortunately she has not convinced anybody on this side of the Chamber with her arguments.
One of my main asks was: does the Minister agree that the Government should enshrine the UNCRPD in law? If that was done, then lots of other things would follow from it. Warm thoughts and good intentions from the Government are great, and I am really pleased that the Government have them, but we really need hard law to make all these things possible. The Minister referred to the employment Bill—where is it?—and access to work, which is the subject of another debate that I will apply for. Hon. Members have reflected on the effects of austerity, too.
I will raise one other issue: the Government’s silo mentality. The Minister had a hard job, because there was discussion of FCDO and DWP—and she also managed to bring in BEIS. Again, I go back to the importance of enshrining the UNCRPD in law, because then Departments would almost be forced to work together.
Something the Minister said struck me. She said that people should be treated fairly and equally. We heard from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), among others, about how people applying for PIP and other DWP benefits are assessed. Could the Government please start treating disabled people with dignity, fairness and respect? That would go a long way towards making things different for disabled people, here and further afield.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.