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

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

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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.

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.


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

no se vende

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”

Why are Basque nationalists coming to the rescue of the Spanish conservative government?

This article was published first in Open Democracy under the Can Europe make it? series

With only five seats in a Parliament of 350 Members, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV-EAJ) is playing a crucial role in Spanish politics.


In a hung parliament, PP’s conservative government can only rely on its 134 MPs and two more that tend to be loyal. About 40 seats short, the government has to negotiate each legislative initiative with the opposition, where two parties stand out as most likely allies in tumultuous waters: the 32 MPs of the central-liberal Ciudadanos (“Citizens”) and the mentioned five from PNV-EAJ. After some political juggling, their support can be enough most of the time.

However, while Ciudadanos is comfortable with PP’s economic policies and anti-devolution Jacobinism, ideology does not explain the PNV-EAJ’s position. PNV-EAJ is closer to the social-democratic PSOE (allegedly closer than PSOE leaders towards each other), and in fact, they share power in the Basque government, in the three Basque provincial governments and in many local councils, including the three main cities.

Even Podemos (“We can”), which is supposed to be to the left of everybody else, included in its Ikea-style 2016 manifesto the expansion of the Basque welfare regime to the rest of Spain, and the recognition of the right to self-determination of the Basque Country and Catalonia, all of which suggests that there could be room for mutual understanding with them too.

But the PNV-EAJ has made a different choice. In essence, Mr Rajoy needs the moderate Basque nationalists to remain in power, and the Basque nationalists know it all too well. After weeks of negotiations, PNV-EAJ has just confirmed it will support the approval of the Spanish budget. Less than one month ago, with its abstention PP facilitated the approval of the Basque government’s budget in the Basque parliament.

Considering the ideological mismatch and the significant disagreement about the very idea of nationhood, how come Basque nationalists seem willing to reach agreements in Madrid with a conservative and unionist party haunted by corruption scandals? Continue reading “Why are Basque nationalists coming to the rescue of the Spanish conservative government?”

Aprendamos a criticar sin condenar, literalmente hablando

1Este artículo fue publicado en El Huffington Post

La hemeroteca estos días nos ha dejado tres historias distintas pero que tienen algo en común.

Como pidieron políticos y varias administraciones, la semana pasada la Fiscalía abrió diligencias que obligaron a inmovilizar el autobús con el que Hazte Oír lanzaba mensajes tránsfobos por las calles de varias ciudades españolas. Al parecer, existía un riesgo de “alteración de la paz pública (y) de creación de un sentimiento de inseguridad o temor” entre personas transexuales, especialmente menores.

En Las Palmas de Gran Canaria un drag queen se vistió de virgen y de jesucristo para ganar un concurso durante el carnaval. El show fue puesto en conocimiento de la Fiscalía por si pudiera constituir un “delito contra los sentimientos religiosos”. El sujeto en cuestión aseguró públicamente que él no quería ofender a nadie. Resulta que la intención de ofender es precisamente uno de los elementos indispensables de este curioso tipo delictivo, así que nunca sabremos si estas explicaciones son genuinas o son por si las moscas.

EITB ha emitido un programa humorístico (¡!) en el que la farándula euskaldun se deshace en estereotipos sobre “los españoles”, que son unos chonis, machistas, corruptos, ignorantes, fachas y muy-muy paletos. No sé cuál es el escándalo, la verdad, porque los vascos ya lo sabíamos: lo absorbimos acríticamente primero de los payasos de la tele, luego en la ikastola, y más tarde en la herriko taberna. Todo el mundo sabe que la facilitad de influir sobre un vasco es tan sólo comparable con la de corromper a un español. En cualquier caso, Ciudadanos y UPN ya han anunciado que van a llevar el tema a los tribunales porque el programa “incita al odio”. Han recordado que quien ríe el último, ríe mejor, y supuestamente el último en reír tiene que ser un juez.

¿Qué tienen en común estas tres historias? Continue reading “Aprendamos a criticar sin condenar, literalmente hablando”

International human rights bodies have said it loud and clear: We need clear targets to reduce child poverty

This article was published first by Huffington Post

The UK needs clear targets to reduce and eventually put an end to child poverty.

This is the purpose of a Private Members’ Bill sponsored by Dan Jarvis MP. The Bill places the duty on the government to set targets to limit both absolute and relative child poverty, to lay out a clear strategy, and to report to Parliament on progress made to meet the targets. The Bill intends to restore the benchmarks of the Child Poverty Act 2010, which were removed by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016.

According to the Department of Work and Pensions, the proportion of children in absolute low income (before housing costs) was 17% in 2014/15, substantially more than the 5% target of the Bill being discussed in Parliament. Furthermore, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has predicted a 3-point rise in absolute child poverty between 2016 and 2020 as a result of planned tax and benefit reforms. Continue reading “International human rights bodies have said it loud and clear: We need clear targets to reduce child poverty”

Una pregunta desde el Reino Unido: ¿Por qué España no es nativista como las demás?

Este artículo fue publicado primero en El Huffington Post

El populismo xenófobo lleva años acechándonos. Ya se ha adueñado de Estados Unidos y de Hungría, apretó a Austria, y ahora amenaza en Francia, Holanda y Alemania. España por ahora parece vacunada contra este mal, y muchos se preguntan por qué.

Suelen darse varios argumentos para explicar por qué en España no triunfa (todavía) el populismo xenófobo: el recuerdo de la dictadura franquista, la falta de liderazgo y las desavenencias internas dentro de la extrema derecha, su integración en un sector del Partido Popular, la pluralidad de sentimientos de pertenencia nacional en distintos puntos del Estado, la canalización del descontento popular a través de Podemos y de otras plataformas, etc.

Todos estos argumentos, y seguramente algunos otros más (¿el papel de los medios de comunicación?), parecen relevantes. Posiblemente sea cierto que la situación concreta de España se explique a la luz de varios factores, pero sería bueno afinar el análisis intentando concretar el peso relativo de cada uno de ellos. El manido Spain is different no es suficiente. Continue reading “Una pregunta desde el Reino Unido: ¿Por qué España no es nativista como las demás?”