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Disabled People Basic Human Rights Social Work Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 5469 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Uusitalo 1985 asserted that a commonly discussed point about state welfare is its ability to redistribute wealth. However, there are other commentators who do not agree with this assertion and feel that State Welfare (SW) has failed to redistribute wealth and create equality (Miller, 1994; Clegg, 2010; Osborne 2010; Grice, 2009). SW was instituted to, in a way, give basic human rights such as the right to education, health, social services, housing and social security. It was therefore imperative that all individuals had access to it and were treated equally by the system.

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Thane (2010) asserts that although UK is perceived to be an accommodating society, inequity and prejudice has long existed in the country. Legislative Acts such as the Discrimination Act 1995, Equality Act 2010 and the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities legally give disabled people civil rights, yet disabled people remain at a disadvantage. Massie (2007) claims that disabled people of working age are still living below the relative poverty level. This is affirmed by disabled activists such as Mike Oliver, Colin Barnes and others (Barnes, 1981; Oliver and Barnes 1991). It is alleged that SW has not only failed to ensure disabled people’s basic human rights but it has also infringed and diminished some of these rights.

This essay will examine the assertion, first by defining what State Welfare (SW) is. Second, it will briefly discuss the theory and history of SW in the United Kingdom and critically examine how SW has enabled disabled people to exercise their rights, especially in recent times, through Independent Living, Direct Payments and Basic Income. Third, it will examine the Human Rights Act 1998 and the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the light of Human Rights principles. Fourth, it will explore how SW has infringed on the rights of individuals relative to education, housing, employment, health and social security. Last but in no means the least; it will highlight the role of professionals in perpetuating dependency, and discuss the role of the Disabled People’s movement in challenging SW provision and developing alternative policies and services to remove disabling barriers. It will conclude by drawing the arguments together relative to the question.

Definition of Welfare

Academicians, historians and social commentators have all attempted to define State Welfare (SW). Lowe (1993) however, purports that there is no formal definition of the term State Welfare. Wedderburn (1965) defines SW as a government obligation of some level which alters demand and supply to ensure fair income distribution. Lowe (2005) has also defined SW as not just a case of providing an isolated human service but a community where the state embraces accountability for the well-being of everybody. The Cambridge dictionary (2011) has described it as a form of tax collection that allows the state to provide basic human rights such as health, social security etcetera to those who require it.

Briggs (1961) contextualizes SW by arguing that the state uses its’ sovereignty to manipulate demand and supply for labour in three ways. The first is to make sure people receive a basic income regardless of the price of their labour or amount of their assets. The second is to minimise uncertainty by meeting people’s basic needs to alleviate social deprivation and the third is to give people access to good quality services regardless of their social standing. While Marshall (1950) purports that welfare rights and social citizenship are closely connected, rendering SW worthless without welfare rights. Esping-Anderson (1990) also points out that social citizenship is made up of the essential notion of SW.

Theories of State Welfare

State Welfare (SW) does not exist on its’ own, like any other system it is underpinned by various theories. O’Brien and Penna (1998) explain that theories are not intellectual concepts taken out of this world but ideas which give guidance and explains behaviour. SW in United Kingdom (UK) is underpinned by four main theories and they are as follow:


Liberalism takes the view that individuals should support themselves with the state interfering only when they are not able to do so. Gray (1989), a proponent of pluralist liberalism, maintains that there are different kinds of liberals. Firstly, there are those who take individualism to the extreme and rely on themselves alone, with the state intervening only when it comes to their freedom. Secondly, there are those who although are dedicated to their freedom, do not mind communal plans for socio-political progression. Finally, there are those who also see any state interference as evil. Liberals are said to have created the basics of SW (Clegg, 2011).


Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote their work during the 19th Century. Marxism concerns itself with materialism. Marx and Engels argued that the antagonism among social classes lead to social change, which finally culminates into capitalism: the common ‘evil’ predominant in today’s socio-economic structures. They see capitalism as ‘evil’ because they hold the opinion that it promotes oppression where the working class are exploited by the ruling class – bourgeoisie (Avineri, 1968 pg 3). The tradition of Marxism does not promote the view of SW as fundamentally the Marxist does not view welfare as the way forward for changing inequalities. (Esping-Anderson, 1998).


Neo-liberalism is an ideology that sustains an ethical and rational stand for capitalism. It associates itself with economics, social behaviour and social interactions (Thorsen and Lie, 2009). The Neo-liberalists promote the idea of cutting down state debts, reducing state support, changing tax legislation to widen the tax network, getting rid of pegged exchange rates, globalising markets to trade by limiting economic policies that restrict trading among countries, promoting privatisation, private ownership and supporting deregulation. Plant (2010) asserts that Neo-liberalism has produced an open market where the state has ultimate power.


Conservatism is a belief in organisations and traditions that have developed over the years and have shown to be on-going and stable. The term was devised after the 1833 Reform Act by the Tory Party when they changed their name to Conservative Party. The term has origins in Edmund Burke’s 1790 thinking on the French Revolution (Thompson, 2011). The ideology was based on preserving tradition such as the royal family, the church and social classes. Welfare is not paramount on the Conservative agenda as they believe in work, family and patriotism.

History of Welfare

Whelan (2007) states that welfare for the disadvantaged goes a long way back in British history, with individuals and charities such as churches running schools to educate children and charities meeting the housing needs of the working class. The idea behind these benevolent acts was to relieve the social conditions that industrialisation had created (Head, 2009). Poor Laws were one of the first legislations instituted in 1598 to assist the poor and the disabled in the UK by the Elizabethan government (Slack, 1990). The Victorian government continued to uphold these laws, but in the 1900s life became difficult for the working class such that it compelled the liberal government to introduce various reforms from 1906 to 1914.

Some historians’ claim, that state welfare (SW) developed from the 1601 Poor laws (Thane and Whiteside, 2009). Lowe (1993) asserts that the term SW was created in the 1930s, having first been used derogatorily in Germany to describe the Weimar Republic (Lowe, 1993; Gough, 2005). Weimer was a central city southwest of Germany and the first to be associated with SW (Harsch, 1999). In the UK in 1940, during the leadership of Winston Churchill, the conservative government became concerned about the Second World War returnee soldiers and their reliance on the state to earn meaningful living. In view of this, Sir William Beveridge was tasked with examining the already established National insurance schemes. He produced a report which was to establish SW. The key message in his report was the five ‘giant evils’ which were namely: Want (representing poverty); Disease (health), Ignorance (lack of education); Idleness (unemployment) and Squalor (housing) (Timmins, 2001).

The Beveridge report, 1942, brought changes to education that was laudable, such as promoting education for all (Batterson, 1999). This subsequently led to the enactment of The 1944 Education Act which was based on the Education Act 1870 that offered free education to all children in the country. Through the 1944 Education Act, the government intended to give children an equal chance in education by creating three types of schools: secondary modern, grammar and technical schools. Children were select into various school based on the individual ability (Batterson, 1999).

Beveridge’s report was influential and caused the government to start dealing with poverty and instituted constructive measures that resulted in introduction of universal benefits like The 1945 Family Allowance Act (Pleuger, No Date). This act allowed all families in Britain to receive weekly allowances for their children who were under 16 years, regardless of their financial or social status. Subsequently, other systems were introduced such as the National Insurance system that allowed contributing claimants to claim cash benefits from it. The National Assistance Act was next introduced in 1948 and it provided assistance to anybody who needed help or was not covered by other benefits. That same year the National Health Service (NHS) was also introduced and it provided universal health services. Mandated by the 1946 National Health Service Act, NHS operated on the following values: free care, free for all with clinical needs and not based on the ability to pay (BBC, 1998). However, this situation changed in 1951 when NHS started charging for dental treatment and prescriptions.

Beveridge’s report also touched on housing issues. There was shortage of houses after the World War II causing people to live in squalor, but between 1950 and 1955 the government tackled this problem by financing local authorities to build council houses for low income families (Burnett, 1987) The housing shortages compelled the government to take measures to alleviate severity by nationalising utility companies as part of the programme to control living expenses. Thirty years after Beveridge’s ‘From Cradle to Grave’ report, SW became a permanent part of British society. The economy however took a turn for the worse with high inflation and unemployment. People were ever more reliant on SW and there were calls for a change. (Devine, 2006)

Political power changed hands and Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979. Mrs Thatcher was of the persuasion that individuals should take care of themselves instead of paying high taxes to support public services like the NHS. Hills (1998), maintains that the Thatcher government emphasised on four things: denationalizing, targeting, disparity and cutting public expenditure. Thatcherism as it was called introduced some far-reaching ideas that produced means testing, selective welfare and privatisation of public services (Glendinning, 1991 ; Hills, 1998). The ‘Right to Buy’ scheme, for instance, encouraged council tenants to buy their homes. All these policies reinforced belief in self-reliance rather than on state ‘hand outs’.

By 1997 Britain wanted a fresh pair of eyes after 18 years under the conservative government. Labour reinvented itself as New Labour with Tony Blair as Prime Minister. He introduced New Labour, announcing the discovery of the Third Way (Walker, 1998). New Labour believed that the route out of poverty was through work and therefore constructed SW on jobs for the ‘able’ and protection for those who were ‘unable’. Hills (1998, pg23) poses the question: ‘is New Labour any different?’ The answer is yes and no as New Labour was seen to have combined conservative ideas of cutting public spending married with a New Labour priority on education. New Labour presented a slightly modified SW as compared to the previous government, the Conservative. They did not however escape criticism, which led to their defeat in 2010.

A Coalition government has been formed and the conservatives and liberal democrats have put their heads together to lead Britain. Their aim is to reduce the state fiscal deficit by cutting public expenditure yet again. The theme for SW reform is making work pay (Turner, 2011). Disability Alliance (2010) has indicated that their organisation is worried about what the coalition reforms mean to disabled people. This is similar to the 1980s, where disabled people faced cuts in welfare benefits, restricted access to work and access to unemployment benefit taken away completely (Glendinning, 1991; Hills, 1998). The Coalition government refers to this change as a move to a ‘big society’ primarily aim to relinquish some of its responsibilities and to give individuals and communities control of services (Sutton, 2011). Reformist Frank Field supports this goal, maintaining that similar arrangements were in place during the 1800s (Sutton, 2011).

Human Rights

The right to health care, education, housing, income maintenance and social services are all fundamental human rights found in state welfare (SW). The United Nations define human rights as an individual constitutional right that should be enjoyed regardless of whom you are and where you are in this world. Each and every one is allowed to have access to these rights without prejudice (United Nations Human Rights, 2011). Amnesty International (2011) define human rights as rudimentary privileges which should be enjoyed by everybody irrespective of whom they are, where they come from, which skin colour they are, and irrespective of their gender, faith, linguistic background or standing. The British Institute of Human Rights (2006) posits that the fundamental human rights are fairness, equality, dignity and respect.

The term human rights was recently coined, but the concept has roots in medieval times. Ishay (2004) asserts that development of the human rights concept has many accounts. Some accounts have said Kings ruled their subjects in such degrading ways because they felt they had the God-given rights to do so. This led people to develop ‘man’ rights to combat the God given rights. Others indicate that the Quran, the Bible and eastern world teachings have all contributed to the development of human rights (Ishay, 2004). Subrahmanyam (2011) also purports that political struggles such as Liberalism, Marxism, Socialism, etc. have all contributed to creation of human rights.

After the genocide committed by Adolf Hitler and his government during World War II, the United Nations General Assembly created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) to prevent that kind of abuse from ever happening again. The UDHR document has become the backbone of many treaties and human rights laws all over the world (Bailey, 2011). Gleeson (2011) asserts that this document was used by the Council of Europe to implement the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in 1953 to safeguard human rights and basic liberties in Europe.

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The European Court of Human Rights was also implemented by this convention and anybody who feels their rights have been abused can take their case to this court. Britain joined the convention 1951 even though it was not until 2nd October 2000 before the convention became part of the laws in UK (Jepson, 2004). Another recent treaty is the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which was signed by UK in 2008.

State Welfare enabling Disabled People to exercise their Rights

There have been many policies and laws for disabled people since the establishment of state welfare (SW) in 1945 which have enabled disabled people to exercise their rights. Bracking (1993) states that disabled people’s lives have been transformed since 1939, when disabled people started to speak for themselves. Thornes et al (2000) maintain that there have been four areas of care for disabled people since the establishment of SW. The provision of residential homes, National Health Service (NHS) care, educational services and income maintenance.

There have also been several laws that have assisted disabled people in exercising their rights. The Chronically Sick and Disabled Person’s Act 1970, for instance, was an important law which came to empower disabled people. Through this legislation councils gained authority to provide care, homes and support to people in the community. It also gave disabled people the same rights to leisure and academic services (BBC News, 2010). The Seebohm Report (1968) recommendations also led to the enactment of the Local Authority Act 1970 which gave local authorities the right to set up community care.

The Education Act 1944 recommended that disabled children should school alongside their non-disabled peers (Barnes, 1991). The Warnock Report influenced the 1981 Education Act by recommending that disabled children be educated with their non-disabled peers. The Special Educational Needs Act 2001 gave disabled children, parents and carers the right to be educated in mainstream schools if reasonable adjustment could be made. The Employment Act 1994 made working easier for disabled people even though the quota system did help employers to discriminate against disabled people (Barnes, 1991).

The 1948 National Assistance Act gave assistance and support to people in need and replaced the Poor Law. It also gave local authorities the duty to provide community care services for the sick, disabled, the aged and other people. The 1946 National Health Service provided advice, treatment and care to the nation free of charge (BBC News, 1998). The NHS and Community Care Act 1990 promoted community care which has benefited many disabled people.

The Community Care (Direct Payments) Act 1996, gave local social services the power to make cash payments, but were not effected until 2003, when it became mandatory to offer it to eligible people after assessment. This allows individuals to buy and manage their own care provision. Disabled people also have available to them the Access to Personal Files Act 1987, which gives them the freedom to access any notes or reports about them held by organisations. Access to Health Records 1986, part of the Data Protection Act, gives individuals the right to health records.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which has been replaced in many respects by the Equality Act 2010, safeguards disabled people from being discriminated against in education, employment, access to goods and services, buying and renting. The Equality Duty 2006 demands that public bodies provide services that promote equality. Social security benefits have also become substantial from the humble Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefits and the War Injuries Disabilities Pension to Disability Living Allowance and Carers Allowance which supports extra cost incurred as a result of a person’s impairment. Long term sickness assistance like Income Related Employment and Support Allowance, Severe Disablement Allowance and Attendance Allowance are in place to support disabled people. Further support can be acquired through Working Tax Credit, Income Support, Pension Credit, Housing and Council Tax Benefit (DirectGov, 2011).

Self-directed care schemes like Direct Payments, Personal Budgets and Independent Living schemes also allow disabled people to access opportunities like their non-disabled peers (Barnes and Mercer 2006). Bracking (1993) affirms that Independent Living gives claimants the freedom to live on their own. Furthermore, it allows disabled people to make and be part of decision making processes. Disabled people are able to select and organise services for themselves and not rely on their local authority or other organisations to provide them. The Mobility and Blue Badge Scheme allows disabled people to buy or lease a car and give help with parking. Barnes (2004) purports that independent living can change the value of disabled people’s life.

State Welfare has diminished Rights

British Institute of Human Rights (2006) states that human rights are not simply concerned with legislation but impacts on services provided by the state like residential care, academic institutions, hospitals and support workers in disabled peoples home. Barnes and Oliver (1991) postulate that SW ‘cradle to grave’ promise of safeguarding its participant’s has not worked or else there would not be a demand for a disability discrimination law. The state has therefore not only been unsuccessful in securing disabled people’s fundamental rights, it has impinged and limited some of them. The Socialist (2010) highlights a recent case in which a disabled woman’s UN convention Rights and human rights have been ignored by being asked to wear incontinence pads instead of using a commode at night because of the cost of employing a carer. If the local authority wins this case it will have big implications for disabled people across the nation.

Federation of Disabled People (2011) purports that the Education Secretary, Michael Grove, was recently informed that not dialoguing over the idea of cutting school building schemes resulted in not considering equality concerns. Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education (CSIE) (No Date) propound that inclusive education is part of the international human rights law. Disabled people have been fighting for inclusive education since SW began and the 1944 Education Act was enacted Although it was stipulated in the Act that disabled children should be educated alongside their peers it never materialised. The Warnock Report in 1978 found that one in five children would need special educational support at one point or another during their school life. The report therefore recommended unit are created on school premises to accommodate such needs (Warnock Report, 1978).These recommendations influenced the 1981 Education Act which also asked for children to be ‘statemented’ before being placed in special schools. It furthermore, gave parents the right to appeal against their children special needs assessments. The 1981 Education Act also failed to establish inclusion, integration and accessibility breeching disabled people’s right to access educational institutions at any given time.

Rieser and Mason (1992) indicated that not much had been changed by the 1990s. Disabled children were still being educated with the medical view instead of a curriculum. This led to many completing their schooling without proper qualification (House of Commons, 1999). This breeched their right to obtain official recognition for a course they have completed. The 1993 Education Act tried to give parents more rights to appeal against decisions by the Local Education Authority (LEA) to send their child to special needs school. The Act also extended LEA’s time frames for assessing children with disability and encouraged inclusive education. Part of the subsequent 1996 Education Act identified and modified certain sections in the law allowing parents to choose if their children were to attend main stream schools.

The enactment of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 brought disabled children close to inclusion. LEA were now under duty to provide mainstream education for children if that was the wish of their parents but this should not be to the detriment of non-disabled students (Vaughan, No Date). Disability and Equality Duty 2006 gave public services the duty to improve equality in all their services delivery. The most recent Equality Act 2010 also demands that all those providing services like education to provide fair and equal services to people.

The conceptualisation of moving towards an all inclusion option for education for people with disability has made in roads with the introduction of the Education Act (Virvan 1992). Policies and Green papers such as ‘Excellence for All Children: Meeting Special Educational Needs, 1997’ and the advancement of technology have not been able to address significantly the challenges that face disabled people in education. Johnson and Cohen (1984) suggest that challenges in the classroom, communication levels and total social inclusion are still not fully addressed leaving disabled people’s right to effective education breached.

The Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey 2009 indicates that UK presently has 1.3 million disabled people ready and free to work. 50% of people with disability at employable age are actually employed as equated to 80% of people without disabilities. It is also noted that the type of disability also influences the figures significantly. For example, only 20% per cent of people with mental health difficulties are in work. About 23% have not got any educational credentials in comparison to nine per cent of people without disabilities. Non-disabled people get roughly £12.30 in equation to £11.08 that disabled people get (Shaw Trust 2011). These figures evidence the disadvantages disabled people face in employment.

Lindbeck (1996) states that Keynesian idea of full employment and Beveridge universal state welfare (SW) system stem from the same roots. In Britain for instance, the government’s committed to providing employment, universal state welfare and well-being to its citizens but disabled people had less chances of being in work than their non-disabled peers in the 1970’s. These figures improved in the 1980’s because a lot of non-disabled people were out of work. By the 1990’s things had become worse with 21% against 7% of non-disabled people were out of work. Fagin and Little (1984) assertion that people have dignity, sense of belonging and responsibility in working hold true. Most disabled people however, are stuck on state benefits because of unemployment and under employment situations. Where is their right to respect for their private and family life, home and correspondence if they cannot be involved in community life?

Barnes (1992) propounds that reasons given about difficulties that disabled people face in employment is out-dated and no longer acceptable. Although the 1944 Employment Act was designed to give disabled people opportunities in paid work the quota system undermined it. The Disability Discrimination Act and Equality Act 2010 were all designed to combat employer attitude and discrimination but there remain barriers like medical screening, age, education, experience, transportation, appearance and environmental factors that need to be addressed to allow the disabled person to participate actively in employment.

Berry (2010) advocates that the idea of state welfare (SW) was to eradicate divisions amongst people, but seems like the impact of the SW has made these divisions even more noticeable. He further asserts that the property division among property holders and renters is emphatic than ever. Equality Human Rights Commission EQHRC (2011) state that there are certain rights a person has in relation to housing and home ownership. One of them are to have and delight in the possession of property, but clearly owning your own home is something that most disabled people do not have the power to acquire. Derbyshire Coalition of Disabled People (DCODP) (1986) state every person has the authority to dwell in a home in any average place but critics have said this is not possible because there is lack of houses in UK more so accessible homes.

Although the 1970 Chronically Sick and Disabled Person Act requires local authorities to provide the housing needs of disabled people, most councils have sold their properties and have little stock left (BCODP, 1987). Some Local authorities have to work with other organisations to meet the housing needs of disabled people. Accommodation and supported housing are usually few and farther away from town centres, thus isolating disabled people and breaching their right to independent living. Disabled people also usually have to go through a medical assessment to get into social housing. This practice has been slammed by disabled commentators advocating that it is discriminatory (BCODP, 1987). The Housing Act 1988 did not include disabled people in purchasing council flats and houses in the 1980s. Peck (2011) submits that a lot of people with disabilities cannot get assistance to enable them avert being homeless. Those who do get housed sometimes face houses with adaptations that are not up to standard (Heywood, 2001).

State welfare (SW) amongst other things was to provide financial assistance that will relieve poverty and create social protection for all citizens. However, disabled people do not seem to have experienced this relief. Carvel (2005) asserts that three in ten disabled people who are employable are poor and this gap is widening regardless of what the state is doing to combat societal handicap. Smith (2008) advocates that the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability’s recent report reveals three million disabled people in UK in 2008 lived in relative poverty.

Palmer (No Date) states that about a third of people with disability falling between ages 25 and 65 onwards live in poor families, half of Non-disabled peoples figure. Disabled people are poor because they often do not work. Statistics indicated that about 60% of disabled people are not employable in contrast to 15% of non-disabled people (Palmer, No Date). A large percentage of disabled people are willing to work but cannot find employment. Disabled people often do not have the credentials required for working. 75% of people who are of employable age and on benefits are either ill or have a disability.

The 1988 disability survey conducted by the Office of National Statistics confirms this deprivation. The survey recognised that most disabled people rely on social security benefits, but the 1988 benefit reforms did not consider these findings and cut social security spending which in turn affected disabled people. DisabledGo (2010) advocate that Equality Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is apprehensive about the governments Work Capability Assessment test and the impact it is having on Employment Support Allowance claimants. Cooper (2010) asserts that the 2011 housing benefit reforms will make a lot of people homeless. The government’s plan to cut public spending and relieve itself of some its responsibilities will undermine schemes and programmes that support disabled people. This will inevitably corrode disabled peoples right.

The National Health Service posits that disabled people have intolerable challenges accessing their services (Department of Health, 1999) The National Health Service’s core value is to provide health care for all in UK but it is apparent this not the case. Wide spread discrimination has been reported by various organisations and the media. Brindle (2008) and Triggle (2007) submits that an official inquiry has found that NHS discriminates against people with learning difficulties. They further alleges that the main shortcoming of the NHS is the lack of knowledge in learning disability issues. Disability News Service (2009) state a recent report by Every Disabled Child Matters indicates that disabled children are being let down by the NHS despite having the resources to support them.

Aspis (2006) alleges that disabled people’s right to life is in today threatened, as medical staffs are allowed to make life and death decisions about disabled people without making clinical references. He further alleges that scientific experimentations like gene manipulation and pre-natal screening could wipe out disabled people in the not too distant future. F


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