UN Committee “seriously concerned” about the impact of austerity on human rights

30 June 2016 by

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) has published a damning report on the UK’s implementation of economic, social and cultural rights. The report is available here (under “Concluding Observations”).

The CESCR monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), an international treaty to which the UK is a party. State parties are required to submit regular reports to the Committee outlining the legislative, judicial, policy and other measures they have taken to implement the rights set out in the treaty. The Committee may also take into account evidence from “Civil Society Organisations” (Amnesty International and Just Fair were among those who made submissions in respect of the UK). The Committee then addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of “concluding observations”.

The Committee’s last report on the UK was back in 2009, so this was its first opportunity to review the austerity measures put in place since 2010.

It’s fair to say that the UK did not come off well. With regard to austerity, the Committee was:

“…seriously concerned about the disproportionate adverse impact that austerity measures, introduced since 2010, are having on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups.”

On social security, the report states:

“The Committee is deeply concerned about the various changes in the entitlements to, and cuts in, social benefits, introduced by the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and the Welfare Reform and Work Act of 2016, such as the reduction of the household benefit cap, the removal of the spare-room subsidy (bedroom tax), the four year freeze on certain benefits and the reduction in child tax credits. The Committee is particularly concerned about the adverse impact of these changes and cuts on the enjoyment of the rights to social security and to an adequate standard of living by disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups, including women, children, persons with disabilities, low-income families and families with two or more children. The Committee also is concerned about the extent to which the State party has made use of sanctions in relation to social security benefits and the absence of due process and access to justice for those affected by the use of sanctions.”

And it will come as no great surprise to the legal profession that:

“The Committee is concerned that the reforms to the legal aid system and the introduction of employment tribunal fees have restricted access to justice, in areas such as employment, housing, education and social welfare benefits.”

Other concerns raised by the Committee include:

  • Unemployment, which, despite a rise in the employment rate, continues to disproportionately affect people with disabilities, young people and people belonging to ethnic, religious or other minorities.
  • The high incidence of part-time work, precarious self-employment, temporary employment and the use of zero hour contracts, particularly affecting women.
  • The “persistent discrimination” suffered by migrant workers.
  • The challenges faced by asylum seekers due to restrictions in accessing employment and the insufficient level of support provided through the daily allowance.
  • The national minimum wage, which the Committee was concerned “is not sufficient to ensure a decent standard of living in the State party, particularly in London, and does not apply for workers under the age of 25”.
  • The increased risk of poverty for people with disabilities, people belonging to ethnic, religious or other minorities, single-parent families and families with children.
  • The persistent critical situation in terms of availability, affordability and accessibility of adequate housing, in part as a result of cuts in state benefits.
  • The significant rise in homelessness, affecting mostly single persons, families with children, victims of domestic violence, persons with disabilities and asylum-seekers.
  • The increasing levels of food insecurity, malnutrition, including obesity, and the lack of adequate measures to reduce the reliance on food banks.
  • Discrimination in accessing health care services against refugees, asylum-seekers, refused asylum-seekers and Travellers.
  • Significant inequalities in educational attainment, especially for children belonging to ethnic, religious or other minorities and children from low-income families which has the effect of limiting social mobility.
  • Increasing university fees, which affect the equal access to higher education.
  • The criminalisation of termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland, which disproportionately affects women from low-income families who cannot travel to other parts of the United Kingdom.

Sadly, it seems unlikely that very much will change as a result. The Government is not bound to implement the recommendations made by the Committee, which can do little more than remind state parties of their existing international obligations. The UK is not a party to the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR, which allows individuals to complain to the Committee that their rights have been violated. As far as legal action is concerned, economic, social and cultural rights are generally much harder for individuals to enforce than civil and political ones. Unlike the rights contained in the ECHR and (for now) at least some of those in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the rights in the ICESCR are not enforceable in UK domestic courts. However, the report may at least provide further ammunition for those campaigning against austerity, or otherwise challenging the policies it criticises.

7 comments


  1. Tim says:

    What’s the point of “rights” that can’t be enforced?

    Can they really be called ‘rights’? It sounds as if they want to give people rights without giving them rights.A phoney display.

    A lot of my fellow Deaf people voted for Brexit and one of their principal reasons was that the EU doesn’t give them any strong rights; it doesn’t help them.

    Yes, I know the ECHR etc are separate from the EU, but if you don’t look after marginalised people, don’t complain when they want out of the whole European set up.

  2. NMac says:

    I would suggest that our current Government has little regard for the learned opinions of “experts”. They appear to prefer dogma rather than intelligent assessment.

  3. Simon Carne says:

    Disappointed to see that the Independent and the New Statesman have both misquoted the report as saying that the government’s policy is “in breach” of human rights. Their articles are at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/austerity-government-policy-conservatives-poor-food-banks-inequality-un-a7110066.html and http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/06/un-declares-uk-s-austerity-policies-breach-international-human-rights.

    1. I’m very disappointed to learn that the report didn’t say the government’s policy is in breach as the Independent & New Statesman reported. That could have been a game changer.

      1. Simon Carne says:

        The report recommends an assessment of the impact on rights, so presumably the report’s authors don’t know whether there has actually been a breach.

  4. sdbast says:

    Reblogged this on sdbast.

  5. helenjnoble says:

    Reblogged this on helenjnoble.

Comments are closed.

Welcome to the UKHRB


This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.

Subscribe

Categories


Tags


Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Commission on a Bill of Rights common law communications competition confidentiality consent conservation constitution contact order contact tracing contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus coronavirus act 2020 costs costs budgets Court of Protection covid crime criminal law Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty defamation DEFRA deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention Dignitas diplomacy disability disclosure Discrimination disease divorce DNA domestic violence duty of care ECHR ECtHR Education election Employment Environment Equality Act Equality Act 2010 Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice evidence extradition extraordinary rendition Facebook Facial Recognition Family Fatal Accidents Fertility FGM Finance foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Expression freedom of information freedom of speech Gay marriage gay rights Gaza Gender genetics Germany Google Grenfell Gun Control Health HIV home office Housing HRLA human rights Human Rights Act human rights news Human Rights Watch Huntington's Disease immigration India Indonesia injunction Inquests insurance international law internet inuit Iran Iraq Ireland islam Israel Italy IVF ivory ban Japan joint enterprise judaism judicial review Judicial Review reform Julian Assange jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Bill Law Pod UK legal aid legal aid cuts Leveson Inquiry lgbtq liability Libel Liberty Libya lisbon treaty Lithuania local authorities marriage Media and Censorship mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Health military Ministry of Justice modern slavery morocco murder music Muslim nationality national security naturism neuroscience NHS Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance Obituary parental rights parliamentary expenses scandal patents Pensions Personal Injury physician assisted death Piracy Plagiarism planning planning system Poland Police Politics Pope press prison Prisoners prisoner votes Prisons privacy Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecutions Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest Public/Private public access public authorities public inquiries quarantine Radicalisation rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion RightsInfo right to die right to family life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania round-up Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials sexual offence shamima begum Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa Spain special advocates Sports Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance sweatshops Syria Tax technology Terrorism tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine universal credit universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe

Disclaimer


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: