Social protection systems should be more inclusive of persons with disabilities – UN rights expert

28 October 2015

States should make their social protection systems more inclusive for persons with disabilities, rather than pursuing models that often lock them into a cycle of dependence and poverty, a UN expert on the rights of persons with disabilities has said.

“Most countries base their social protection systems on a ‘medical approach’ to disability, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, told the UN General Assembly.

Under this model, Ms. Devandas Aguilar said that persons with disabilities are seen as incapable of studying, working or living independently in the society.

“Such an approach promotes a false sense of well-being and protection,” the expert warned. “Yes, persons with disabilities get services and benefits but often at the cost of their autonomy and independence. Such approach has without any doubt resulted in more poverty, segregation, stigmatization and exclusion.”

In addition, she highlighted that non-inclusive poverty reduction programmes implemented in the past decades also constitute “a missed opportunity,” which could have enabled persons with disabilities to get out of poverty.

In her report, the UN expert further argues that well-designed social protection systems are an essential tool to combat poverty and promote the independence, inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in a sustainable manner.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the report provides concrete steps that States can take to ensure that their systems become more inclusive.

These include reviewing domestic legislation, ensuring access by persons with disabilities to general and disability-specific social protection without discrimination, and guaranteeing that benefits offered promote independence and social inclusion and cover disability-related costs.

Meanwhile, the Special Rapporteur also expressed her deep concern about the disproportionate effect of austerity measures on persons with disabilities.

“While adopting austerity measures, some countries make budget cuts that have a profound impact on the livelihood of persons with disabilities and their right to live independently in their community,” she noted, stressing that States should refrain from adopting measures that are deliberately regressive in the exercise of the right to social protection.

“Inclusive social protection is essential to achieve the new Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs],” Ms. Devandas Aguilar underlined, referring to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted in September by all UN Member States.

“The inclusion of persons with disabilities in social protection systems is not only a question of rights, but also a crucial step to move towards the proposed new SDGs: end poverty in all its forms everywhere; ensure healthy lives and promote well-being; ensure inclusive and equitable quality education; achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; and reduce inequalities,” she concluded.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

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