The socio-economic duty: a human rights remedy against austerity and inequality

 

This post was published in the blog of The Baring Foundation

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The Scottish government is currently consulting on the implementation of Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010, which would require public bodies to consider when making decisions how they would reduce the equalities of outcome resulting from socio-economic disadvantage. Just Fair is one of the organisations leading the #1forEquality campaign to urge the UK government to do the same.

The UK is a very unequal society. While the share of income in the top 20% has remained approximately stable since the early 1990s, the share of the top 1% continuously increased well into the 2000s. There are significant gaps between ethnic groups, with the median income of a family of Bangladeshi origin 35% below that of a white British household. Inequality is most evident in the distribution of wealth: The richest 1,000 people accumulate more wealth than the poorest 40% of households.

The austerity policies implemented by successive UK governments have been strongly criticised by independent international human rights bodies.

In summer 2016 the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed serious concernsabout “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”.

Last August the Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities described the situation in the UK as a “human catastrophe”: “Each disabled person is losing between £2,000 and £3,000 per year; people are pushed into work situations without being recognised as vulnerable, and the evidence that we [the UN Committee] had in front of us was just overwhelming”.

Like all other countries, the UK is expected to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015, including the 10th one, whereby governments pledged to ensure equal opportunity and to reduce inequalities of outcome between and within countries.

However, because of its comparatively low investment in education and a regressive tax structure, the UK does not rank highly when it comes to the commitment to reduce inequality.

The UK must change course soon but luckily we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 imposes a duty on public bodies, when making strategic decisions, to consider how they can reduce the inequalities of outcome that result from socioeconomic disadvantage.

To take effect, though, this provision requires a formal decision by the Government to activate it, or as is known technically, to commence it.

Despite being at the forefront of the Act, successive governments have failed to bring the socioeconomic equality duty into force. As a result of the Government’s inaction in this regard, in the mentioned 2016 report the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights concluded that the UK was not doing everything within its power to tackle discrimination in relation to these rights.

Thankfully the Scottish Government is committed to introducing the socioeconomic duty before the end of the year, and has launched a consultation about what this duty should mean in practice. At the end of this process, Scotland will become the first part of the UK to bring the socioeconomic equality duty to life. Continue reading “The socio-economic duty: a human rights remedy against austerity and inequality”

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Seize the moment, because Britain needs a broad movement for social rights

This article was published first in The Human Rights Essay

Britain is a very unequal society and austerity has seriously damaged our welfare system and our social fabric.

UN bodies have issued damning reports about the state of human rights in our country. Last year, for example, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights strongly criticised “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”.

Senior see the empty purse

We are witnessing historical changes in politics and society in general. The mentioned UN report came out only three days after the referendum. As I write this, the Government continues to refuse to bring into the UK law the rights contained in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which includes some social rights. Unless Parliament introduces the necessary amendments, citizens will no longer be allowed to demand the enforcement of the rights as recognised in the Charter. In the meantime, the Government is determined to deliver a heavy blow to democracy with power grabbing Henry VII clauses, and fails to dispel the suspicion that they would like to see lower and fewer employment rights once EU law is off the table.

Whatever one thinks of the reasons why people voted out and of the prospects of leaving the European Union, there is no question: Defending social rights is now more pressing than ever. Continue reading “Seize the moment, because Britain needs a broad movement for social rights”

SDGs and Economic & Social Rights under the Brexit Uncertainty

cover spotlight sdg 2017 reportThis text introduces the UK chapter of the Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2017 international report, with other contributions from Social Watch, Third World Network, the Global Policy Forum and the Center for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, among others. 

“While the Sustainable Development Goals themselves are not framed explicitly in the language of human rights, virtually all of the Goals correspond to the contents of key economic, social and cultural rights.”—UN Secretary-General, December 2016

This report examines the progressive realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and economic and social rights in the UK. Specifically, it focuses on three issues: a) the impact of welfare reforms on the right to an adequate standard of living; b) substantive equality; and c) human rights-based accountability for the implementation of the SDGs.

The present and future of economic and social rights in the UK will depend considerably on the legal and policy consequences of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. In March, the UK communicated formally its intention to leave the EU, and the negotiations only began in late June. What follows will therefore frame economic and social rights in the context of the uncertainty derived from Brexit.

Author: Koldo Casla

Read more…

International human rights can help reverse yet another heavy blow on sexual and reproductive health

My Body My ChoiceThis article was published first in UK Human Rights Blog

Women’s sexual and reproductive rights are not safe and accessible in all corners of the United Kingdom.

Abortion is still a crime in Northern Ireland. Women who choose to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights have to travel to mainland Britain, but they have to face costs (about £900 in this recent case) that would not apply if they lived in England, Wales or Scotland.

By a majority of 3 to 2, the Supreme Court has ruled that, while this situation does in principle concern the right to enjoy a private and family life without discrimination (Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights), the difference in treatment is justified because the decision on this matter falls under the powers of the devolved administration of Northern Ireland (paragraph 20 of the Judgment). And therefore the human rights of women living in Northern Ireland are not being breached.

Well, international human rights bodies beg to differ. Continue reading “International human rights can help reverse yet another heavy blow on sexual and reproductive health”

Evicted rights in Spain: no room of one’s own

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This article was first published in OpenGlobalRights (Open Democracy)

If Virginia Woolf needed a room of her own to write fiction (and much more), Paula needs a place to call home to live her life and to raise her kids. But ineffective policies are blocking her at every turn. Paula is just one of thousands of women who cannot escape the trap of insecure housing after going through an eviction in Spain.

More than 30,000 households were evicted from their rented homes last year alone, as in the previous one, and the one before. The number of households evicted from mortgaged properties does not fall far behind.

Going through an eviction is a traumatic experience for everyone, but Amnesty International has documented that women often experience it differently—and more frequently. Women are overrepresented in part-time jobs, find themselves at the lower end of the pay gap, and regularly bear domestic care duties. Single-parent families, which are predominantly headed by women (in more than eight out of ten cases), often live in rental accommodations. Official statistics show that these families also face higher than average rates of poverty, social exclusion and material deprivation.

Amnesty International interviewed 19 women and four men who either have gone through an eviction or are at risk of being evicted. At least seven of them complained that the judge had not enquired about their personal circumstances. “We did not get the chance to explain our situation to the judge,” said Ana. A female judge in Barcelona confirmed this problem, saying: “When we receive the eviction suit, we have absolutely no idea who lives there.”

Continue reading “Evicted rights in Spain: no room of one’s own”

Derechos desahuciados en España: Sin habitación propia

ai report coverEste artículo fue publicado en OpenGlobalRights (Open Democracy)

Si Virginia Woolf reclamaba una habitación propia para escribir literatura (y para mucho más), Paula reclama un lugar al que poder llamar hogar para vivir su vida y criar a sus hijos. Pero políticas ineficaces le cierran el paso. Paula no es sino una de las miles de mujeres que no pueden salir de la trampa de la vivienda insegura tras un desahucio.

Más de 30.000 familias protagonizaron un desahucio por impago del alquiler el año pasado, al igual que el anterior, y el anterior. El número de familias afectadas por desalojos de origen hipotecario no es muy inferior.

Un desahucio es una experiencia traumática para cualquiera, pero Amnistía Internacional ha documentado que las mujeres lo sufren de manera diferente, y más frecuentemente. Las mujeres están sobrerrepresentadas en los trabajos a jornada parcial, se encuentran en la parte inferior de la brecha salarial, y con frecuencia se hacen cargo de las responsabilidades de cuidado familiar. Las familias monoparentales, predominantemente encabezadas por mujeres (en más de ocho de cada diez casos), suelen vivir en pisos de alquiler. Las estadísticas oficiales muestran que las mujeres en España se enfrentan a tasas más altas de pobreza, exclusión social y privación material.

Miembros de Amnistía Internacional entrevistamos a 19 mujeres y cuatro hombres que o bien habían pasado por un desahucio o corrían el riesgo de ser desahuciadas en un futuro próximo. Al menos siete de ellas lamentaron que durante el proceso el juez no mostró interés por sus circunstancias personales. “No tuvimos ocasión de explicarle nuestra situación”, nos dijo Ana. Una jueza de Barcelona nos lo confirmó: “Cuando recibimos una demanda de desahucio, no tenemos ni la menor idea de quién está viviendo allá”. Continue reading “Derechos desahuciados en España: Sin habitación propia”

General Election: What do the manifestos say about the socio-economic equality duty?

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This article was published first in Left Foot Forward

Lucy Shaddock, Public Affairs and Campaigns Manager, The Equality Trust; and Koldo Casla, Policy, Research and Training Manager, Just Fair

The countdown is on to the General Election, and party manifestos have been coming thick and fast. There’s plenty of rhetorical commitment to a more equal and fair society, with the Conservatives proclaiming that they ‘abhor[s] social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality’, and Labour declaring itself ‘the party of equality’. The Liberal Democrats say they will focus on ‘breaking down the barriers that hold people back’, while Plaid Cymru wants a country based on ‘fairness and equal opportunity’. The Green Party promises to ‘fight for equality, and for a society where nobody is left behind’, and the SNP says ‘tackling rising inequality must be one of the key priorities of the next parliament’.

They all use the word ‘rights’ a good number of times. In fact, for the first time in too many years no serious political party threatens to repeal the Human Rights Act in the next Parliament, which is only thanks to the tireless campaigning of so many activists up and down the country.

There are many levers available to policymakers to ease our social divisions – taxation, spending, investment and regulation offer opportunities to tackle inequality. We need them all: the UK has among the most unequal incomes in the developed world, and an eye-watering wealth gap that sees the richest 1,000 people hoarding more wealth than the poorest 40 per cent of the population combined. This economic gulf hurts us. It undermines our enjoyment of human rights by harming our physical and mental health and by hindering our education, it damages our economy, restricts social mobility, reduces levels of trust and civic participation, and weakens the social ties that bind us.

How many of the parties have put their money where their mouth is and committed to reducing socioeconomic inequality as a legal public duty? Continue reading “General Election: What do the manifestos say about the socio-economic equality duty?”