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Public bodies are breaching disabled people’s rights, says EHRC

(6 March 2012)

Local authorities, health bodies and police forces are frequently breaching the human rights of disabled people, according to a new report by Britain’s equality watchdog.

The review by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) of how public bodies in England and Wales protect human rights found “much to be proud of”.

But it also highlights 10 areas where public authorities could do more to meet their human rights obligations, with disabled people at particular risk in several of those areas.

The review criticises councils and primary care trusts for not always understanding their human rights obligations, while it says the Care Quality Commission – the social care and health regulator – has “sometimes failed to identify and prevent abuses of human rights”.

These failures mean that some disabled people are experiencing “abusive, cruel and degrading treatment”, which at its worst is “similar to torture”.

The review also warns that the increased pressure on health and social care budgets means public bodies that reduce the quality of care packages due to funding constraints risk breaching disabled people’s right to respect for their family and private life.

And it criticises the police and Crown Prosecution Service for the low prosecution and conviction rates for disability hate crime.

The report is also critical of local authorities and police forces that have failed to intervene in cases of serious ill-treatment of disabled people, with agencies often failing to work together effectively, sometimes resulting in a person’s death.

It mentions the case of Michael Gilbert, a disabled man held captive by members of a Luton family for 10 years, who was regularly beaten, stabbed, tortured, treated like a slave and had his benefits money stolen. He was eventually murdered in January 2009.

Two major inquiries later highlighted the failure of public bodies to share information and take action that might have prevented Gilbert’s death.

The review says that disabled people’s rights are also at risk through planned government cuts to legal aid, including funding for benefits and employment advice.

The cuts are part of the government’s Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which has reached its final stages of debate in the House of Lords.

Campaigners have warned that these cuts will “decimate” the civil law system and cause huge problems for disabled people, particularly at a time when the government is introducing radical reforms of the benefits system.

The EHRC review also warns that police custody, prisons and immigration removal centres often fail to provide the right facilities and support for people with mental health conditions. This has even led to deaths in police custody, it says.

News provided by John Pring at

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