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”

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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”

Renting rights: what England can learn from fairer systems around the world

downloadThis article was published first in The Conversation.

Record numbers of families now rent privately in Britain. Twice as many middle-aged people rent their homes compared to 2008, and it has been estimated that about one-third of millennials will rent for their whole life.

Renting the house you live in has its advantages as it gives you greater freedom of movement and saves you other costs: insurance, service charge, deposit, mortgage interest, to name a few. Yet, for most people, renting privately is not really a matter of choice. It is the result of stagnant wages and the fact that house values rise much faster than the economy.

Britain is becoming a country of (reluctant) tenants. But the law does not keep the balance fairly between landlord’s interests and tenant’s rights. Continue reading “Renting rights: what England can learn from fairer systems around the world”

Supreme Court of Spain: UN Treaty Body individual decisions are legally binding

angela pic womens linkThis article was published in EJIL: Talk!

The Spanish Supreme Court has established that the views expressed by UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies in individual complaints are binding on the State. The Court ordered Spain to pay €600,000 in compensation to Ángela González for the responsibility of its authorities in relation to the death of her daughter. Her daughter was murdered by her father in an unsupervised visit authorised by a judge. National courts dismissed Ángela’s case, but the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) found a breach of her human rights. The Supreme Court has now affirmed that the State must comply with the Committee’s decision. This article discusses the significance of the case and the principle established by it. Continue reading “Supreme Court of Spain: UN Treaty Body individual decisions are legally binding”

Local authorities are paving the way to tackling inequality

downloadBy Koldo Casla

This article was originally published by LGiU, the local democracy think tank.

The Equality Act 2010 was a major step forward. It protects against direct and indirect discrimination in public services and harassment in the private sphere, including the workplace. Nine characteristics are protected within it: Age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

Although social class is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, Section 1 contains what is known as the socio-economic duty.

This duty would require public authorities to have due regard to “the desirability of exercising (their functions) in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage”.

However, sucessive governments since 2010 have failed to bring it to life, which means that public authorities are not technically bound by Section 1.

The duty could have made a difference in the case of Grenfell, for example. Had it been in force, it would have required the Kensington and Chelsea Council to consider whether its policies in relation to council tax, social housing, homelessness and disaster planning were adequate to address the enormous inequalities in the borough.

Section 1 of the Equality Act is technically not binding for public authorities in England, but some councils are showing what the duty could look like in practice.

Just Fair interviewed 20 council representatives, senior officers and voluntary sector groups in Manchester, Newcastle, Oldham, Wigan, Bristol, York and the London Borough of Islington.

Respondents used different frames and agendas to articulate their policies: Fairness, inclusive growth, impact assessment, equality budgeting, economic disadvantage, social exclusion… But all of them were clear that austerity had prompted them to react both because of the way Universal Credit and other welfare reforms were affecting their residents and because of the limitations on local government funding.

All seven councils show a combination of a) visible leadership, b) cultural shift, c) meaningful impact assessments, d) data transparency, and e) engagement with residents and the voluntary sector. Continue reading “Local authorities are paving the way to tackling inequality”

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?”