Could the socio-economic duty be a way to reduce inequalities in the UK?

SDG-10This piece was published in UKSSD blog. (Image credited to UKSSD)

The UK Government committed to reducing inequalities through Sustainable Development Goal 10. Three years later things aren’t on track but is the socio-economic duty the solution we need? Koldo Casla from Just Fair explains. 

By signing up to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, among other things, the UK Government committed to reducing inequalities.

The SDGs, with their 17 Goals and 169 Targets, set the world on a trajectory where we have eradicated poverty, reduced inequalities, halted the loss of biodiversity and combatted catastrophic climate change. Some call them an action plan for the world. But as our chapter on SDG 10 in Measuring up shows, three years later the UK’s chances of hitting the targets on reducing inequalities by 2030 are not looking too good.

Three reasons why the UK will struggle to reduce inequalities

  1. Between one in five and one in four people earn less than 60% of the median income in the UK. This has barely changed since 2010, and things are not likely to improve as income inequality is projected to rise in the coming years.
  1. Although wealth inequality (the ownership of assets, including property) contracted between 1997 and 2007, it is now going up as a result of the decreased access to home ownership and because land values are growing faster than the economy. The richest 1,000 people are wealthier than the poorest 40% of households.
  1. Tax and social security cuts introduced since 2012 have had a particularly severe effect on people on low incomes. Black and ethnic minority households, families with at least one disabled member, and lone parents (who are overwhelmingly women) have suffered disproportionately. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, as a result of the tax and welfare reforms households in the bottom 20-30 per cent have lost more than twice as much as those in the top 20 per cent. At this pace, in four years from now 1.5 million more children will live in poverty.

The UK has a strong legal framework to prevent discrimination, we just need to use it Continue reading “Could the socio-economic duty be a way to reduce inequalities in the UK?”

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Damp, dirty and dangerous: Here’s how the government is housing homeless children

Kids View Baby Sad Child Toys Double-decker BoyThis article was published in Left Foot Forward.

Report shows how government and local authorities are failing thousands of vulnerable kids in Britain by shoving them into B&Bs and forgetting all about them.

There are over 120,000 homeless children in England.

And while children’s housing rights are proclaimed in a number of international treaties endorsed by the UK, human rights acquire true meaning when statistics and international standards give way to life experience.

And that is why the new report by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) is so welcome. The report exposes the problem of housing children in temporary accommodation like B&Bs for extended periods. Continue reading “Damp, dirty and dangerous: Here’s how the government is housing homeless children”

International rights are only as good as the national mechanisms that protect them

PA-7018580-1600x900This article was published in Open Democracy UK.

In June 2016, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reproached the UK Government its failure to reconcile austerity with international human rights law. The Committee made 60 recommendations in areas such as housing, equality law, social security and public health.

According to international law, the Government must comply with international obligations and engage with international human rights bodies in good faith.

However, in February 2017 the Ministry of Justice announced that it did not intend to report before June 2021 on the implementation (or lack thereof) of the UN’s recommendations.

Slightly over a year later, it is encouraging to see that the Ministry of Justice will be represented at a high level today in an event co-organised by Just Fair and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to examine precisely what progress the UK has made in relation to economic and social rights since the UN’s report of 2016. Continue reading “International rights are only as good as the national mechanisms that protect them”

The government are ignoring their obligation to measure inequality – parliament must compel them to do so

Screen-Shot-2018-01-05-at-16.07.10-440x292This article was published in Labour List.

The UK is one of the most economically unequal countries in the developed world, and tax, public spending and social security policies in the austerity years only worsened the problem.

Since 2010, the Labour Party has examined the impact of tax and social benefits on different groups. The model developed by Yvette Cooper shows that the savings have come from services predominantly used by women, causing them to bear the brunt of such cuts to the tune of 86%.

While the Government fails to conduct the necessary impact assessments, others are providing evidence of the disproportionate effect that some policies are having on women, children, persons with disabilities or BAME families.

Last November, for example, the Equality and Human Rights Commission demonstrated that the costs of tax, public spending and social security cuts have been borne overwhelmingly by the poor. While everyone has lost some money after the reforms, not everyone has lost the same.

Net cash losses for the bottom 40% have been about £1,500 per year, while for the top 20% the average cash loss has been £200. On average, BAME households have paid a higher price than white households. Families with at least one member with a disability have bit hit particularly hard. Single parent households, more than 80% of whom are headed by women, have suffered disproportionately. In fact, women have been more negatively affected by tax and welfare reforms in all income brackets.

In light of this dire reality, 126 Labour, Lib Dem, SNP and Green MPs have called for an immediate equality assessment of all government policies.

In particular, Labour has tabled an amendment to the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2017 to require the Chancellor to review the equality impact of the Budget, including the way in which tax changes and benefit cuts affect households at different income levels.

We welcome this initiative. We desperately need policies that are both transparent and effective in ensuring real equality and an adequate standard of living for everyone.

The good news is that we already have the necessary tool in the statute books: the Socio-economic Duty. Continue reading “The government are ignoring their obligation to measure inequality – parliament must compel them to do so”

The UK must commit to social rights for its citizens after Brexit

The UK must commit to social rights for its citizens after Brexit

File 20171204 22986 1wd1a0x.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
shutterstock.

Koldo Casla, Newcastle University

Regardless of what you think of the UK’s relationship with the European Union, you should consider this: the EU (Withdrawal) Bill currently passing through the British parliament puts some important social rights at risk.

Social rights are the right to health, education, an adequate standard of living (including food and adequate housing) and to social security. The UK has ratified a number of international social rights treaties, the most important of which is the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

International treaties are legally binding for countries that voluntarily sign and ratify them. The UK and 165 other countries have done so in the case of the ICESCR. However, the UK has not yet incorporated the ICESCR into its domestic legal system. As a result of that, social rights remain relevant in the political discourse but, by and large, legally toothless.

However, people living in the UK do enjoy a number of social rights as a result of the UK’s membership of the European Union.

British laws protecting workers from discrimination and protecting their maternity leave rights, for example, come from EU directives. The European Court of Justice has developed some of these rights on equal pay for equal work and equal access to state pensions. Workers are also entitled to compensation if their EU labour rights are breached.

Europe will no longer offer support to British citizens if the UK government infringes on its rights.
EPA

The UK supreme court drew on EU law when it insisted that employers have to give spouses in same-sex marriages the same pension rights as heterosexual couples. The same court also concluded that employment tribunal fees (charging people for taking action against their employers for unfair treatment) made access to justice practically impossible or excessively difficult for too many people, and that breached EU law as well. The High Court of England and Wales echoed the right to health recognised in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights when it ruled to keep plain packaging for cigarettes.

All these steps were directly or indirectly the result of the UK being an EU member state. The EU (Withdrawal) Bill puts many of these rights at risk. In its current form the bill will erase the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and all the protections that come with it. These protections will no longer apply to British citizens and other residents after Brexit day.

Seeking continuity

As the Conservative MP and former attorney general Dominic Grieve recently argued in parliament, the problem of the EU
(Withdrawal) Bill is that equality or environmental policies, for example, will no longer enjoy the legal protection that EU membership gives them. British authorities will therefore be free to lower or indeed remove the standards that currently protect British people.

In response to this problem, the former High Court judge Michael Tugendhat has advocated that UK courts should have the power to ignore an act of parliament if it is contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and EU human rights principles.

And to avoid losing equality rights, the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee has said that courts should be able to declare that an act of parliament is contrary to the Equality Act 2010. Such a declaration would send a message to parliament that it should consider appealing or amending the offending act – though it would not be obliged to do so and could choose to do nothing at all.

A British tradition

Social rights have been part of Britain’s tradition for centuries and Brexit should not change that. This year marks the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest, which limited landlords’ privileges, facilitated free men’s access to the common land and granted women’s rights that were revolutionary for the standards of the time. Britain is also the land of the Peasants’ Revolt of the 14th century and of the Putney Debates in 1647, the birthplace of Thomas Paine and John Stuart Mill, the stronghold of the labour movements in the 19th and 20th centuries, the country of the NHS, the home of the council house.

The UK must match these historical milestones with a categorical legal and political commitment to social rights in the 21st century.

It is not an overstatement to claim that Brexit is a constitutional juncture of unique historical relevance. As Britons look for the future they want to live in, now more than ever they must take back control of their rights. Britain should bring social rights home by incorporating international human rights law into the national legal system.

Koldo Casla, Research Associate, Institute of Health & Society, Newcastle University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

You can’t silence the data when it’s so deafening: The poor have borne the cost of tax and welfare reforms.

This article was published in Left Foot Forward.

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The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published today the distributional results for the effects of tax and welfare reforms since 2010. The report presents the disaggregated impact of the changes made to Income Tax, NICs, VAT, social security benefits, tax credits, Universal Credit, and National Minimum and Living Wages.

The data is both illuminating and excruciating.

Let’s start with the good news (Figure 1). The top 10% paid a little bit extra through indirect taxes (VAT and others), and the introduction of the National Living Wage had a positive impact across the board, but more so for the bottom half of society.

And now the rest. The largest cash gains from Income Tax and NICs went to the wealthiest, particularly the top 30%. The poorest adults did not get much out of it either because they were not in work or because they did not earn enough to notice the tax changes.

The most regressive impact came from benefit and tax credits and from universal credit. Households in the second and third decile (those who have to look upwards to find 70-90% of the people) lost more than twice as much as those in the top 20%. The roll out of the universal credit has led to further cash losses.

If we add up the good news and the bad ones, the conclusion is that, while everyone has lost some money, not everyone has lost the same. Net cash losses for the bottom 40% have been about £1,500 per year. For the nearly wealthiest ones (decile 9), the average cash loss has been £200. Continue reading “You can’t silence the data when it’s so deafening: The poor have borne the cost of tax and welfare reforms.”