With all the political drama going on these days, it’s hard to discuss a UN convention without eyes glazing over, but bear with me. This is a scandal that may not grab headlines like the PM’s unfortunate cough and P45 handover last week, but it deserves to be in every paper and on every politician’s to-do list.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was signed a decade ago. At its heart this is about treating people with a disability the same as everyone else – as active citizens able to enjoy the same rights, freedoms and choices that we all expect. Where adjustments can be made so that society doesn’t disable people, we make them. Seems straightforward enough for a rich society like ours. Yet a recent UN inquiry found welfare reforms have led to “grave and systematic” violations of these rights.
This won’t be a surprise to anyone with experience of the system, but it is no less shocking for it. The brutal cuts which take away people’s mobility cars or their support to live independently, the increased poverty from policies of austerity have disproportionately affected disabled people. There are now genuine fears that Brexit will make the downward slide even worse as essential health and social care staff from EU countries leave the UK in their droves. EU level funds and anti-discrimination laws are also under threat.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The UN laid out steps the UK could take to make things better. Disabled individuals and organisations have gathered evidence, lobbied, marched and yelled from the rooftops for change – but instead of rolling up their sleeves and getting on with it, it seems the UK Government has stuck its fingers in its ears.
Improving the quality of life for people with disabilities is about social opportunities too, things like being able to go out and enjoy a pint with pals without fear there’s no toilet – something non-disabled people take for granted.
I’m pleased to say many of Edinburgh citizens have been leading the way in tackling this issue. This includes disability campaigner Mark Cooper who was inspired to start the “Barred” campaign to change licensing laws which should come into effect in Scotland soon.
There’s also Euan MacDonald who took this on by launching the website Euan’s Guide – a growing global resource with reviews of accessible facilities written for and by disabled people who know what they’re talking about. Euan takes a positive approach which awards good practice and hopefully improves business for those that have made the effort, encouraging others to do the same.
I’ve called a debate on the UN Convention on the rights of people with disabilities in parliament this Thursday, and I aim to keep this at the top of the political agenda until it’s more than warm, woolly words about human rights but a practical lived-in reality for everyone with a disability in the UK.
Deidre Brock is SNP MP for Edinburgh North and Leith