General Comment 5 of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights concerning persons with disabilities was published in 1994. In its introduction it clarifies that:
‘The obligation of States parties to the Covenant to promote progressive realization of the relevant rights to the maximum of their available resources clearly requires Governments to do much more than merely abstain from taking measures which might have a negative impact on persons with disabilities. The obligation in the case of such a vulnerable and disadvantaged group is to take positive action to reduce structural disadvantages and to give appropriate preferential treatment to people with disabilities in order to achieve the objectives of full participation and equality within society for all persons with disabilities. This almost invariably means that additional resources will need to be made available for this purpose and that a wide range of specially tailored measures will be required.’
It then goes onto refer to a report by the Secretary‑General of the United Nations which noted how developments over the past decade in both developed and developing countries have been especially unfavourable from the perspective of persons with disabilities:
“… current economic and social deterioration, marked by low‑growth rates, high unemployment, reduced public expenditure, current structural adjustment programmes and privatization, have negatively affected programmes and services … If the present negative trends continue, there is the risk that [persons with disabilities] may increasingly be relegated to the margins of society, dependent on ad hoc support.”
The Committee goes onto remind States that
‘As the Committee has previously observed (general comment No. 3 (Fifth session, 1990), para. 12), the duty of States parties to protect the vulnerable members of their societies assumes greater rather than less importance in times of severe resource constraints.’
The UK government will be examined by the Committee later this year. Let’s hope these principles are put fully to the test.