Treatment of disabled and unemployed people’s families an international scandal

By Savi Hensman
November 9, 2016

The UK state’s treatment of disabled people violates basic human rights, a United Nations report has found. Meanwhile more measures are being introduced to worsen the plight of the worst-off families, with grave consequences.

These include a further-reduced cap on benefits for households in which no adult works full-time (with some exemptions) and less cash for many too sick or disabled to work. The bedroom tax is to be inflicted on pensioners and it may be made harder to get unlawful benefit decisions overturned.

A report earlier in 2016 by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights pointed out a range of violations affecting those already disadvantaged. The findings from the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities further highlight the urgent need for change.

There is reliable evidence of “grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities”, the inquiry found. “The core elements of the rights to independent living and being included in the community, an adequate standard of living and social protection and their right to employment have been affected.”

The government has refused to accept the need to improve. However it is open to Theresa May, the new Prime Minister, to turn away from an approach which is not only unjust and cruel but also divisive and harmful to public health.

Otherwise the misery is likely to intensify and spread. In early November, a cap on the total benefits that households in Britain can get was lowered, so that far more people no longer have all their rent paid through housing benefit.

The Chartered Institute of Housing estimated that 116,000 families, the vast majority of which are two and three-children families, would be affected by up to £115 a week. More than 300,000 children live in these households, it warned.

Tenants in much of the country now risk becoming homeless if the main earner is made redundant or becomes sick or disabled, if there is a prospect of going back to work. But uprooting households can damage health and child development and cut adults off from networks which may help them to get jobs.

From April 2017, new claimants in the Employment and Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) will have their payment cut from £102.15 a week to £73.10.

A year later, some badly-off pensioners in social housing will be hit by the bedroom tax. Those in the north may be worst-affected: some in Carlisle may lose around £34 per week if they are deemed to have spare rooms.

Such policies may exact a heavy economic, as well as human and social cost. People who are cold, hungry, frightened or demoralised may find it harder to contribute to the economy in the long term. The spiritual price, in fostering cold and brutal attitudes to those in need, may be higher still.


© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate and respected commentator on welfare and other issues. She is author of the book Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church (Ekklesia, 2016): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22613 and has been involved in seeking greater inclusion.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.