Open Letter To Some Of Those Attending The Global #DisabilitySummit #NowIsTheTime

Open Letter to some of those attending the Global Disability Summit


Lenin Moreno, President of Ecuador

Gabriela Michetti, Vice President of Argentina

Sophie Morgan

20 July 2018

We are writing this open letter to you on behalf of Deaf and Disabled people across the UK concerning your involvement in the global disability summit being co-hosted by the UK government in London on 23 and 24 July.

We are strongly in favour of international support that improves the lives of Deaf and Disabled people across the world and welcome co-operation between States that lead to stronger human rights laws and protections. We particularly support the building of international solidarity and links directly between Deaf and Disabled People, our organisations and campaigns.

However, we have the following concerns regarding the July summit:

The role of the UK government in co-hosting the event. Following an unprecedented investigation carried out by the UN disability committee under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), the UK was found responsible for grave and systematic violations of Disabled people’s rights due to welfare reform. The findings of their investigation, published in November 2016, were and continue to be entirely dismissed by the UK government. In August 2017 the UK government was routinely examined under the UN CRPD and again the UN disability committee expressed their deep concerns regarding the UK government’s failure to understand the Convention, the impact of their policies and failure to recognise them. Again the UK government said they disagreed with the findings of the Committee. The involvement of the UK government in co-hosting the summit therefore undermines any aims of the summit linked to strengthening Deaf and Disabled people’s rights under the UN CRPD. Instead it provides a platform for them to showcase to other States how it is possible to get away with ignoring those rights when it comes to your own citizens.

The UK government’s use of its international work to cynically deflect from criticisms of their disability record in the UK. On a number of occasions when government ministers have been criticised for implementing policies with an adverse impact on Deaf and Disabled people, they have cited the poorer conditions of Disabled people in other countries. This represents a misunderstanding of the UN CRPD which is about the progressive realisation of rights. The UN disability committee have such concern about the situation in the UK because it represents a serious and dramatic retrogression of rights, described by the Chair as a ‘human catastrophe’. In deflecting attention from their record in the UK, the Government clearly intend to more easily continue their punitive policies targeted at Disabled people and the poorest members of society. There is now overwhelming evidence, evidence which the UN disability committee considered, that prove the brutal impacts of these policies. It would be a betrayal to all those suffering under them not to raise concerns about attempts such as use of the global summit to divert attention and opposition to those policies.


The suitability of the Government of Kenya as co-hosts given their abuse of the rights of LGBTQI+ people, many of whom develop lifelong impairments as a result. LGBTQI+ people in Kenya are routinely banished from their families, denied work and accommodation, imprisoned and persecuted. They face severe barriers to forming and maintaining relationships and to living as a couple, the ‘Right to Family Life’ that every human is promised. This results in widespread damage to their mental and physical health, creating impairments where none previously existed. This is reflected in the high level of asylum applications to the UK from LGBTQI+ asylum seekers from African countries.

Despite their experiences, the majority are then refused asylum in the UK and forcibly returned home, where many disappear or are murdered. Just this April, President Kenyatta said that LGBT rights are “not acceptable” and not “an issue of human rights”. The Kenyan Government has also claimed this is a non-issue for Kenyans, and no doubt would argue that it has nothing to do with the Summit. However, if you are Kenyan or Ugandan and are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer or intersex, it is an issue that completely dominates and dictates your life. For many Disabled people from Kenya, it is the reason they developed an impairment in the first place. Under the UN CRPD, the Kenyan government also has an obligation to protect the rights of disabled people who are LGBTQI+.
We appreciate that you may not have had this information when you agreed to involvement in the summit and would be happy to meet to discuss our concerns. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or for further information.

Yours sincerely,

Disabled People Against Cuts

Sisters of Frida

Alliance for Inclusive Education

Inclusion London

Mental Health Resistance Network

Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance

Recovery in the Bin

RITB Statement of Support

RITB (Recovery In The Bin) members have intersecting identities and social positions such as BME/LGBTQIA+/people in receipt of social security. We are a group of people marginalised in many ways, not just because we are mental and disabled by society. We especially wish to stand in allied solidarity with these groups and condemn racism, transphobia, homophobia, sexism & scrounger rhetoric. We call on liberation movements to stand in solidarity with us.

If you wish to add your name or org to this statement please email the details to

Julie Gosling
– Making Waves
– Nottingham MAD Network

Akiko Hart, Mind in Camden

Andy Fugard, Birkbeck, University of London

Stan Papoulias, King’s College London

Jhilmil Breckenridge, Bhor Foundation, India and PhD Researcher at University of Central Lancashire

Gary, mental health service survivor

Helen Hewitt

Richard Ingram, West Coast Mental Health Network

Jayasree Kalathil, Survivor Research, London

Jayne Linney, Disability & Equality Activist

Dr Annie Hickox, Consultant Clinical Neuropsychologist

Rachel Yates, Central London BAPCA Group

Dolly Sen, mental health researcher and artist

Professor Bee Scherer, Director of the Social Justice Research Center INCISE, Canterbury Christ Church University

Suzi Mackenzie, Counsellor with a commitment to social justice

Jen Kilyon, Activist and campaigner for compassionate mental health services

Clare Knighton, Peer Support Worker

Melanie Davis, Mind in Camden

Alison Cameron, Survivor, activist and advocate

Helen Spandler, editor, Asylum magazine

Debbie Hamilton Newcastle Australia

Joanna Landeryou

Tom Wood, Mayday Self Help Groups

Alisdair Cameron, Launchpad Team Leader, ReCoCo co-creator

Mark Brown @markoneinfour

Jay Watts, Alliance for Counselling & Psychotherapy

Christian Kerr, mental ill health experiencer, social worker

Mirabai Swingler

Dina Poursanidou, Asylum magazine collective

​Derry Hunter. Survivor & Agitator. Recovery Wirral

Eleni Chambers, Survivor, researcher and activist

The Left Must Challenge The State’s Reduction Of Mental Health To Market Agendas

This interview first appeared in the Morning Star

Psychotherapist Paul Atkinson talks to Richard House about being a mental well-being activist and the daily difficulties faced by those on the therapeutic front line

Richard House [RH]: Paul, activism takes many forms – including ‘psy activism’ (my term) in the realm of mental health; and you’re one of the most committed psy activists I know. Can you say something, first, about what you see as the key commitments of a psy activist who also works professionally in the mental health field?

Paul Atkinson [PA]: For me as a psychotherapist, the key commitment is an ongoing awareness of the inevitable and complex power relationship between psy professionals and clients/service users. This applies to activism, and also to the consulting room itself. Psy professionals often claim an apolitical neutrality and an enhanced empathic sensitivity in their relationships with other people. Unless we’re willing to continually pay attention to the limits of our assumptions and experience, and keep learning from the people we’re working with, we’re likely to be projecting subtle, and not-so-subtle messages of knowing more than we know, of being a little (or a lot) more important than we are, and protecting ourselves with a whiff of authority that’s overbearing or condescending.

One of the particular characteristics of mental health politics, of course, is that what we call “mental ill-health” is very likely to be a response to the abuse or misuse of others’ power over us at different periods and settings in our lives. So the fact that so much service mental health provision is top-down – in the form of the politics of commissioning and funding, as well as the diagnostic and treatment decisions of psy professionals – is a fundamental issue for mental health activism. As far as possible, political activism around mental health must be shaped and led by service users and survivors. For psy professionals, trust can only be earned over time through action, alongside and in support of survivors. Obviously we professionals have plenty of political issues within our own working remits, around which we can take the lead. But we’re so much more powerful in our campaigns if we have allies campaigning with us who are on the receiving end of the dysfunctionality of the psy professions.

RH: There’s a lot there, Paul! Can you tell us how far away current mental health provision is from the “bottom-up” approach you’re advocating here? – and whether you think a radical-left government could really make a difference to that – and if so, how? magine Iyou’re the new minister for mental health and you have five years!…

PA: I think there are fantastic examples of grass-roots activity among service users. I’m thinking of people I’ve met from the Mental Health Resistance Network, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC – regularly featured in the Star, of course), Recovery in the Bin, Friends of East London Loonies, the National Survivor User Network, Kindred Minds, the Survivor Researcher Network and Making Waves, as well as hundreds of small user, refuser and survivor-run groups involved in peer support, political campaigning, the creative arts, in manifold ways of sharing and valuing each other’s lived experience. But the culture-gap that exists between these forms of local “activism” and mainstream top-down mental health services provided by the NHS, or by some of the big mental health charities like MIND, can be enormous, and often very toxic for people suffering psychological distress.

Do I think a radical-left government could really make a difference? The political transformation required to rethink mental ill-health as a function of society’s ill-health is profound. In a way, mental-health politics is at the heart of any real questioning of what kind of society we want to live in, how we want to relate and be related to, what and whom society’s for. The first three jobs of a radical minister for mental health should be: (1) To ask user groups and individuals all over the country what “mental illness” means to them, and what would be of help to them. Mean it, listen, and then carry on listening. If the Labour Party were serious about any kind of radical transformation of mental health policy, it should be doing this right now. Are they?… (2) Give people the material resources to support their basic needs without condition. (3) Ban all forms of coercion in the name of “treating” people’s psychological suffering/distress.

RH: That’s a resoundingly clear statement – and challenge – to Labour’s shadow health team, Paul: let’s hope they’re open to listening, both to your conspectus here and to the experience of those who desperately need to be listened to – and who, to date, rarely have been by the Establishment. I really like how you place your emphasis on political receptivity and user empowerment, rather than on top-down initiative-itis. I assume you’re less than impressed by current state therapy provision and its top-down nature?

PA: Well, NHS primary care therapy provision – Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (or IAPT) – is seriously top-down. It’s organised as a sort of factory-system or conveyor-belt of mental health treatment, offering on average six or so sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or perhaps mindfulness, relaxation, or online self-guided exercises – aimed really at getting people suffering from depression and/or anxiety back into the everyday reality of their lives under capitalism. What kind of therapy you get is decided for you through a diagnostic check-box interview which may be held on the phone, or even by computer. There’s very little room for “user choice”. Out of 1.4 million people referred last year, two-thirds either never entered or failed to finish a course of IAPT treatment. They simply disappear from the statistics. I’m afraid it’s hard not to feel that IAPT is more about providing cover for the mental ill-health of capitalism than it is responding to the psychological suffering of the people.

Beyond IAPT, I think all forms of therapy carry the danger of encouraging a way of thinking about one’s self and the world that’s imposed on clients, rather than evolving through a process of mutual exchange between a therapist and a client.

RH: That’s sobering stuff, Paul; but I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised when (state) capitalism creates a form of therapy that’s cast in its own image. Finally, could you say something about the once-again mooted state regulation of the psy therapies, and why you think this would be harmful to the field and to the work of therapy?

PA: Obviously therapists want their work with clients to be accountable. The problem with state regulation is the state’s desire for psychotherapy. As we see in other fields like education, medicine, and the law, the neoliberal state is increasingly engaged in violently undermining and taking political control of professional practice whose values and traditions conflict with the interests of the market. Psychotherapy, especially in the independent sector, operates at its best as a sort of free association and open exploration of meaning between people, a process that fosters possibilities for individual and social transformation. In the hands of the state, it will gradually and inevitably be reduced into the service of market agendas.

Paul Atkinson is a psychotherapist in independent practice in London, and a member of the Free Psychotherapy Network. Richard House is a Corbynista activist living in Stroud.