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Muddling through? The UK, economic and social rights and the Disability Rights Convention

Tabitha Collingbourne, Doctoral student, School of Law, University of Sheffield

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The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities came into force on 3rd May 2008. The Convention reaffirms that all human rights apply equally to disabled people and requires ratifying States to take a wide range of measures to ensure that those rights are realised in practice. The Convention breaks new ground in a number of ways, not least by fully integrating economic, social and cultural rights with civil and political rights: it has a clear and intended social dimension.

The UK has signed the Convention and intends to ratify it, thereby undertaking to realise all human rights for all disabled people. However, although the UK has been committed internationally to implementing economic, social and cultural rights since 1976, such rights have not been incorporated into UK law and have so far received far less attention than their civil and political counterparts. Furthermore, despite some positive policy developments, UK law and administration relating to the economic and social rights of disabled people remain deeply entrenched in a 'welfare' rather than a 'rights' model, and so risk being incompatible with the purpose and principles of the new Convention.

This presentation eavesdrops on the UK's dialogue with the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on the subjects of socio-economic rights, equality and disability, looks at current developments in UK law and policy, and assesses the opportunities and challenges revealed. The paper concludes that some fundamental conceptual issues will need to be addressed, and translated into law and practice, before the Convention rights can be effectively realised in the UK.

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