A United Nations committee addressing the rights of disabled people has rebuked the U.K. for how people with disabilities are portrayed by the government and seen in the media, with one expert expressing concern for attitudes which may lead to euthanasia.
“Disabled people being portrayed as parasites, living on social benefits, and welfare and the taxes of other people” is dangerous, Theresia Degener told BBC in an unpublished interview, according to Disability News Service. This attitude “will later on lead to violence against disabled people … if not to killings and euthanasia,” said Degener, who chairs the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
As part of an economic plan to recover from the 2008 recession, the UK began a social security reform in 2010, intended to achieve financial sustainability and curb abuse of the welfare system. In a report delivered last year, the UNCRPD expressed concern that the steps taken to restrict abuse of the system were affecting 26,000 people who were eligible for disability allowances.
Among many other issues, the UNCRPD stated that the reform has negatively impacted poorer neighborhoods, reduced disability services, and increased negative stereotyping. However, a spokesperson for government disagreed with the report and explained that the UK currently spends over $67 billion a year on disabled people — the second highest in the G7. She noted that the report didn’t effectively see the progress made by the country.
In a 2012 survey, Disability Rights U.K. found that three quarters of the disabled people included in the study had recently seen news media which depicted disabled people negatively. Nearly half of the people in the survey attributed responsibility for negative perceptions about disabled people to the U.K. government.
“Although we would never as a human rights treaty body favor censorship, we think that media and the government have some responsibility in this regard,” Degener said. Disability News Service referenced headlines such as “75 per cent of incapacity claimants are fit to work” and “Disabled benefit? Just fill in a form,” which do not adequately represent a majority of disabled people.
Last month, the UNCRPD gathered to discuss the standards for the dignity of the disabled person in society, and Degener specifically emphasized education inclusion and work discrimination.
“I would like to ask the UK government, please explain why in 2015-16 80% of children with disability were without a statement of special education needs within the required 26-week period prescribed by law.”
In June 2016, Pope Francis called for greater social support and inclusion of disabled people, calling discrimination against the disabled “one of the ugliest things” we can do.