Britain’s cuts to social security breach international human rights law. It is time to invest in a fair future

downloadThis article was published in Open Democracy.

In accordance with international human rights law, countries must take concrete steps to the maximum of their available resources to fulfil economic and social rights progressively. This includes the right to social security and the right to an adequate standard of living.

In case of serious economic difficulties, countries can slow down, halt and even reverse some of the progress, but those measures must be time-limited, objectively necessary and proportionate, adopted after meaningful engagement with those most affected by them, they cannot be discriminatory, must mitigate inequalities and ensure that the rights of the most disadvantaged people are not disproportionately affected. These are the requirements of the human right principle of non-retrogression.

A briefing recently written by the social rights NGO Just Fair for the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee shows that tax and social security cuts since 2010 have not met the mentioned requirements of non-retrogression and therefore breach the rights to social security and to an adequate standard of living. This means that the UK is infringing the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Articles 9 and 11) and the European Social Charter (Articles 12 and 13), both of which have been voluntarily subscribed to by the UK. Brexit will not change that.

The briefing is supported by 15 local and national groups working on fair taxation, community engagement, workers’ rights, child poverty, equality and food security: Caritas Anchor House, Unison, Women’s Budget Group, Back To 60, Equality and Diversity Forum, Community Links, Sustain, Fair Play South West, Race On The Agenda, Taxpayers Against Poverty, Research for Action, Latin American Women’s Rights Service, Tax Justice UK, The Equality Trust, and 4 in 10.

Tax and social security policies since 2010 have not been justifiable in terms of the goals they were meant to achieve (a), they have not been proportionate (b) and the effects have been discriminatory (c). The weight of local government funding cuts has fallen on people at risk of harm, discrimination and disadvantage (d), and benefit sanctions have been harmful and largely ineffective (e). Continue reading “Britain’s cuts to social security breach international human rights law. It is time to invest in a fair future”

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El Brexit iba de recuperar el control y eso es precisamente lo que está pasando

Este artículo fue publicado en Agenda Pública

Take back control. Recuperar el control. Ese fue el lema de campaña y el compromiso de quienes dicen hoy honrar la voluntad expresada por el pueblo británico en junio de 2016.

Mañana martes los comunes votarán el acuerdo negociado entre el Gobierno británico y la Comisión Europea. Cuando escribo estas líneas, domingo por la noche, la duda es si Theresa May perderá por algo más de 100 votos o por casi 200. Sobre lo que pasará después hagan sus apuestas.

Ahora les propongo que volvamos a las esencias por un momento. Decían que el Reino Unido tenía que salir de la Unión Europea para recuperar el poder democrático.

Pongámoslo a prueba. Continue reading “El Brexit iba de recuperar el control y eso es precisamente lo que está pasando”

Poverty in Britain: The power of the United Nations is in your hands

0_IBP_NEC_071118food_bank_09JPGKoldo Casla

This article was published in Newcastle’s Chronicle

A week ago, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston, presented his preliminary report on UK poverty.

Not a UN official, Alston was appointed by the Human Rights Council, an intergovernmental UN body the UK is a member of, as an independent advisor to monitor poverty and human rights globally.

The Special Rapporteur visits countries and makes recommendations as part of his mandate. He requires an invitation from the government and he only visits two countries per year.

Alston and his team spent months reading a record number of written submissions from UK-based academics, civil society and individuals. No other mission from a UN independent expert had generated so much interest anywhere in the world. Continue reading “Poverty in Britain: The power of the United Nations is in your hands”

The UN Envoy Has Listened To Britons In Poverty – Now The Government Must Listen To Him

The Special Rapporteur hears from people affected by poverty in Newham - C Bassam Khawaja 2018This article was published first in Huffington Post

I saw Philip Alston in action and the gratitude people showed – these people’s experiences must not be ignored

A few months ago, the government reluctantly accepted a request from an independent expert that provides special advice to the United Nations. His name is Philip Alston and his mandate is extreme poverty and human rights. He wanted to visit the UK to monitor the effects of specific policy decisions on poverty. He was particularly interested in measures like universal credit, benefit sanctions, local government funding cut… and Brexit, of course.

Alston and his team spent the last two weeks in the UK. He visited Bristol, Cardiff, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Essex and London. He met with civil society groups, frontline council workers, government officials, MPs, academics and –by far the most important thing of all- with many people with direct experience of living in poverty.

Just like when he went to the US last year, Alston has been received with hostility by grumpy white men. “Poverty in Britain? Who are the UN and this foreigner to meddle with our business?” Alston has seen it before. No surprises there. Archives are full of similarly wrathful headlines from nationalistic and isolationist commentators and politicians all over the world. Human rights defenders know it too well. We must be doing something right.

Yes, poverty in Britain. Written evidence I put together for Alston on behalf of Newcastle University and Newcastle City Council explains why he went there. Newcastle was the first city with a fully rolled-out universal credit. Nearly three in ten children live in low-income families, compared to two in ten in England. Fuel poverty is also above the mean: Over 14% of households live in fuel poor homes, 11% in England. Newcastle also has the dubious distinction of hosting the busiest food bank in Britain. The City Council reports that public spending cuts from government since 2011 amount to £254million.

New research in Gateshead and Newcastle by my colleagues Mandy Cheetham (Teesside University), Suzanne Moffatt and Michelle Addison (Institute of Health & Society, Newcastle University) demonstrates that universal credit is affecting claimant’s mental health till unbearable limits. People being moved to universal credit, especially those with disabilities and health conditions, are forced to wait an average of seven and a half weeks – sometimes twelve – to receive their first payment. Deductions for advance payments and rent arrears put people in front of the impossible choice between heating their home or putting food on the table.

I saw Alston in action in Newcastle. He listened attentively and respectfully to hardworking families that depend on the foodbank to stay afloat. He met with people who can’t figure out how to muddle through the website to claim benefits. The ‘digital by default’ policy pushes them to Citizens Advice in the City Library, from where they walk for one hour to the West End Food Bank, back to the website, and the wheel keeps on rolling down the slope.

People thanked him for having come to them – instead of expecting it to happen the other way around. It’s like they are not used to that sort of deference. I witnessed sincere appreciation in Newham, East London, in an event organised by Just Fair and Community Links. A crowd of 80 housing activists, child poverty charity workers, survivors of misogynistic violence, people with disabilities, mothers with children spoke up when an open microphone was handed to them. “We’re really glad you’re here”, one person told him, to general approval.

The final report will be out in June. I look forward to reading it and using it extensively. We shall wait and see what’s in it. For now, the preliminary conclusions presented today make clear that tax and social security cuts since 2010 are incompatible with the UK’s international human rights obligations, and that rampant income and wealth inequalities suggest that public authorities are not making use of all available resources to ensure an adequate standard of living for everyone.

In or out of the EU, Alston’s account should be a Dickensian story, not a cover letter for 21st Century Global Britain. The UN envoy has listened carefully. Now it’s time for the government to act.

Koldo Casla

Photograph: Just Fair and Community Links event in Newham, East London. 12 Nov 2018 (c) Bassam Khawaja 2018

Today Wales could make a real difference for equality

imagesBy Koldo Casla and Imogen Richmond-Bishop

(Published first in Left Foot Forward)

The Plenary of the National Assembly for Wales is going to debate today a joint report on equality and Brexit presented by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee and the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee.

In their report both committees recommend the Welsh government to bring the socio-economic duty to life and we urge Assembly Members to give serious consideration to this recommendation.

Established in Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010, the socio-economic duty requires public authorities to actively consider the effects that their policies may have on increasing inequalities both nationally and locally. Continue reading “Today Wales could make a real difference for equality”

Reality of poverty in Newcastle: UN examines effect of austerity

IMG_9322-Edit-Edit-Edit_xlargeThis article was published in The Conversation

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, is in the UK on an official UN mission. He is meeting with civil society groups, academics, public authorities and above all with people living in poverty and dealing with the consequences of years of austerity.

Alston, an independent expert from Australia, is seeking evidence on poverty, inequality and the effect of austerity on local government funding.

This official UN visit takes place at a critical juncture for the 66m people living on these islands. With Brexit’s bridge to nowhere in sight, Britons have been promised “the end of austerity” by their prime minister. However, think tanks such as the Resolution Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies agree that the recent budget from the chancellor of the exchequer is far from an end to austerity, and that uncertainty about the future relationship with the EU leaves all financial prospects up in the air.

Alston and his UN team are visiting Belfast, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Essex, Glasgow, London – and Newcastle. Continue reading “Reality of poverty in Newcastle: UN examines effect of austerity”

Irish Traveller communities in Cork monitor and campaign for social rights

TRAVELLERS EVICTIONThis article was published in Open Global Rights

Traveller communities in Ireland are using international human rights law to monitor their housing conditions and to demand action from the local council. And they are not the only ones.

A community of about 36,000 Irish Travellers live in the Republic of Ireland and 4,000 more in Northern Ireland. Part of the island’s history for centuries, this ethnic minority suffers extreme disadvantages in relation to health, housing, education and access to work.

The Irish Economic and Social Research Institute reports that seven in ten Travellers live in overcrowded housing, eight in ten are unemployed and only one per cent have a college degree. According to the Human Rights and Equality Commission, Irish Travellers are almost ten times more likely to report recruitment discrimination than the White Irish, and 22 times more likely to report it in shops, pubs and restaurants.

A new report by the Irish Traveller community documents the struggle of this ethnic group for their right to adequate housing. The title says it all: “I know my rights but they’re being denied”. The report is based on two surveys with 95 families in 2016 and 2018 (about 20% of the Traveller families in the county), and identifies four indicators and benchmarks to assess the progressive realisation of the community’s housing rights: 1) a decrease in the number of Travellers on the social housing waiting list that have not yet received a written offer of accommodation; 2) a decrease in the number of people that say their accommodation is unsuitable; 3) a decrease in the percentage who are dissatisfied with their landlord’s or the council’s response to reported problems; and 4) an increase in the number of Travellers who feel they know their rights. Continue reading “Irish Traveller communities in Cork monitor and campaign for social rights”