Poverty in the UK: The world is listening, but is the government?

Koldo Casla and Wanda Wyporska

This article was published first in Open Democracy

The UN has heard shocking findings about the level of UK poverty – but the response from government has been confused.

Last Friday, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston, presented his report on UK poverty in front of the UN Human Rights Council.

Fourteen million people in poverty, one and a half million of them in destitution, proliferation of food banks, rising homelessness and rough sleeping, stagnant social mobility, closure of libraries and of bus lines in rural areas, local government funding cuts… In parts of our country more than half of the children are growing up in poverty. If you are a woman born in a deprived area you can expect to die younger than you would have done ten years ago. The poor have borne the cost of unfair taxes and social security cuts introduced since 2010.

All this, despite historically high employment levels. The conclusion is both clear and bitter: Cuts to public services do not work, and simply hurt far too many people. If the Government had meant to harm the British social fabric on purpose, their masterplan would not have had to look substantially different from what we have seen over the past decade.

The world’s fifth largest economy must do much better than this. But Friday was not about Mr Alston’s report. It was about the Government’s response. It is time neither for complacency nor histrionics. As pointed out by fifty UK civil society leaders in an open letter published last week, the Government needs to come up with far more responsible and constructive feedback than what they have been offering recently.

The UN Special Rapporteur came to monitor compliance with international human rights treaties that are binding upon the UK, and it is a general principle in international law that countries must act “in good faith” to comply with international treaties they have voluntarily subscribed to.

When Mr Alston made his report public on 22 May, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd, said it was “biased”, “barely believable” and “a completely inaccurate picture of” the Government’s approach to tackling poverty.

A few days later, the Government added in its official response to the United Nations: “We regret the inflammatory language and overtly political tone of this report, and strongly refute the claim that the design and delivery of welfare reforms, including Universal Credit (UC), are deliberately punitive”.

Last Friday the UK delegation in Geneva simply referred to this written response, with no more comment (min 31:58).

However, only last month ago something rather odd happened at a in a parliamentary committee of one parliamentary committee. A senior civil servant acknowledged: “We did a fact check of the Special Rapporteur report, he made a lot of good points, a lot of it was factually correct; (…) in terms of the facts, austerity, cuts to local government funding (…) all of those things were really good points.” An opposition MP could not believe what he was hearing and turned to the visibly uncomfortable Minister, who added: “It was more the tone and some of the language used which I thought was unnecessary, but of course there are areas in there that I will be working with officials on”. So much for a biasedinaccurate and barely believable report.

A few days earlier, in early June, the Chancellor Philip Hammond said on BBC: “I don’t accept the UN Rapporteur’s report at all. I think that’s nonsense. Look around you. That’s not what we see in this country”. Poverty, deprivation and social exclusion are, of course, not the sort of things he sees from his windows in Downing Street. And that may be part of the problem. It would be helpful for the Chancellor, the Prime Minister and other Cabinet members to take a walk around the country and meet the people trapped in poverty, with no choice, with no freedom, the people that are most affected by the policies they have been implementing.

Those who spoke with Mr Alston in November were not under the illusion that their living conditions were going to improve massively as a result of his presence or his subsequent report. They thanked him for having come to them, instead of expecting it to happen the other way around. It was as if they were not used to that sort of deference from people of authority.

We did not expect the Government to U-turn in Geneva after a decade of ideological austerity. But it is an opportunity for a new Prime Minister. Not everything is about resources, and there’s something the Government could do right now. Get out and talk to people. Certain decisions would not have been adopted if the relevant ministers had spoken with those that are struggling the most in our society. For example, we are convinced the digitalisation of social services would never have been signed off. It is unrealistic to take for granted the confidence and the digital literacy of vast numbers of potential claimants of Universal Credit. “Digital by default” is simply unfit for purpose, and it would not have taken them long to realise that if they had made the effort.

Mr Alston concludes in his report that “key elements of the post-war ‘Beveridge social contract’ are being overturned” in contemporary Britain. Over 600,000 copies of Beveridge’s report were sold when it was published in the early 1940s. We wonder how many people will have downloaded Alston’s report for the UN in 2019; the world record number of submissions from all around the country, the media coverage and above all the testimonies of people that met with him give us reasons to be optimistic. We are witnessing an unstoppable movement to end poverty, fight inequality, preserve public services and champion human rights. Poor people, whether in work, unable to work or unable to find work that pays, deserve to be heard. Mr Alston’s verdict is out. It’s the Government’s turn now. The world is listening.

Continue reading “Poverty in the UK: The world is listening, but is the government?”


Acoso escolar: La administración se pasa la pelota en el patio mientras el alumnado se queda castigado sin derechos

1Este artículo fue publicado en eldiario.es

Hoy Amnistía Internacional lanza su primer informe a nivel mundial sobre el acoso escolar. Y se centra en España.

El acoso escolar entre iguales, entre compañeros y compañeras de escuela, se define como una forma de agresión o de hostigamiento de carácter físico, verbal o relacional, que es deliberada, se repite en el tiempo y se basa en un desequilibrio de poder.

El acoso escolar pone en riesgo el disfrute de los derechos de niños y niñas, como el derecho a no sufrir violencia, el derecho a la no discriminación, a la educación o a la salud, todos ellos reconocidos en el derecho internacional. Independientemente de que un niño o niña vaya a un centro público, concertado o enteramente privado, los poderes públicos tienen la obligación de protegerles.

A lo largo de año y medio, Amnistía Internacional ha hablado con 125 personas entre adolescentes, madres y padres, profesores/as, directoras/as de centros, orientadores/as, inspectores/as educativos, asociaciones de padres y madres, y representantes sindicales, entre otros. Este informe ve la luz principalmente gracias a estas personas. Continue reading “Acoso escolar: La administración se pasa la pelota en el patio mientras el alumnado se queda castigado sin derechos”

The UK must protect economic and social rights with a new law – here’s what should change

file-20190411-44810-69lpa7Koldo Casla & Peter Roderick

This article was published first in The Conversation

Like many other countries, the UK has voluntarily subscribed to a number of international treaties which say that everyone living in the country is entitled to the right to adequate housing, the right to health, the right to social security and other socio-economic rights.

But unlike other countries, by and large these rights have not been incorporated in domestic law, which means that people living in the UK do not have an effective legal way to claim their rights. The UK is an outlier.

That’s why we’ve just launched a consultation on an Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Bill that we’ve developed together with colleagues from other universities and from civil society. It’s the first stage in a process that we hope will eventually end in such a bill being introduced in the British parliament.

The good news is that this means there are several models of incorporating economic and social rights into a country’s legal system that the UK could learn from.

Over 90% of the world’s constitutions recognise at least one socio-economic right. In around 70% of them at least one of these rights is explicitly enforceable in court, and 25% recognise ten or more socio-economic rights as judicially enforceable – particularly those relating to education, trade unions, health-care, social security, child protection and the environment.

The Finnish constitution, for example, imposes the obligation on parliament to legislate for the protection of socio-economic rights, and a widely respected parliamentary committee leads a thorough oversight of this constitutional responsibility. Canadian courts have the power to strike down legislation if it contravenes the constitutional bill of rights, and courts normally give parliament and government a period to comply with judgments.

The South African system creates the expectation that public authorities will adopt reasonable measures to improve the enjoyment of the rights to housing, health and food. In some circumstances, people in South Africa can claim compensation in court if they think they have been victims of public decisions that do not meet that principle of reasonableness. The Spanish constitution establishes that the constitutional bill of rights must be interpreted in accordance with international human rights law, which is part of the domestic legal order.

What would change

Continue reading “The UK must protect economic and social rights with a new law – here’s what should change”

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”

Pero, ¿quiénes fueron José Antonio y Francisco Franco? Una visita al Valle de los Caídos

http_o.aolcdn.comhssstoragemidas9d6e1161c8eae10cf48629ae6dc11577206503435Captura+de+pantalla+2018-07-04+a+las+11.03.24Este artículo fue publicado en El Huffington Post

Estoy pasando unos días en la Sierra de Madrid y una calurosa tarde he conseguido que me lleven al Valle de los Caídos. No voy a gastar letras explicándole mis razones. Digamos que últimamente tengo la memoria bastante presente. Pero dejemos el tema de la motivación para otro artículo.

Son las cinco y somos el último de tres coches en la entrada. A la derecha una periodista de La Sexta practica su intervención ante el cámara.

El ticket cuesta nueve euros por persona. No es barato pero no me pilla desprevenido porque me había informado en internet. Se paga desde el coche. Mi acompañante interroga escéptica: “¿Este dinero adónde va?” Se hace un silencio que a mí me parece innecesariamente largo. Claramente no es la primera vez que se lo preguntan. “Es Patrimonio Nacional. Es del Estado.” Pagamos.

Dentro del recinto del valle hay fauna y flora variada, o eso anuncian los carteles, pero yo no había venido en su busca. A velocidad prudente y cuesta arriba, tras unas cuantas curvas llegamos al aparcamiento. Estacionamos sin dificultad. Habrá una veintena de vehículos pero muchos más huecos. Pasamos lo suficientemente cerca del bar/restaurante como para escuchar frases sueltas de comensales en diversas mesas. Nada reseñable francamente (con perdón), pero me sorprende la comodidad con la que charlan. Yo cómodo precisamente no me siento. También hay un funicular hasta la cruz, pero no funciona.

Minutos después nos encontramos frente al monumento. Es gigante, como lo había imaginado. Abruma. A ambos extremos dos mayúsculos escudos franquistas hacen de escolta en piedra. “Es del Estado”, recuerdo las palabras de la funcionaria de la taquilla.

Hay un contraste notable entre la calma del entorno y la agresividad del mausoleo. Quien ordenó construir este sitio tuvo que ser un hombre acomplejado, temeroso de que la historia no lo fuera a recordar con cariño, o de que no lo fuera a recordar a secas. Continue reading “Pero, ¿quiénes fueron José Antonio y Francisco Franco? Una visita al Valle de los Caídos”

Nadie debería tener miedo de ir a clase

Persons hand filming two schoolboys fighting in school corridor with mobile phone, Bavaria, GermanyEste artículo fue publicado en el Huffington Post como avance de la investigación en curso sobre acoso escolar en España

“Después de todo, ¿dónde comienzan los derechos humanos? En lugares minúsculos, muy cerca de casa. Son tan cercanos y tan pequeños esos sitios que no son visibles en ningún mapa del mundo. Aún así, conforman el mundo de toda persona: el vecindario en el que vive, la escuela o universidad a la que asiste; la fábrica, granja u oficina donde trabaja.”

Son palabras de Eleanor Roosevelt, una de las madres de la Declaración Universal de 1948. Su papel fue clave para el desarrollo del derecho internacional el siglo pasado. Pero estas palabras suyas reconocen que donde verdaderamente se la juegan los derechos humanos no es en Ginebra, en Estrasburgo o en Nueva York; es en la distancias cortas.

En el cole o en el instituto, por ejemplo.

El desarrollo de la personalidad, la no discriminación, la libertad individual, la igualdad de género y el respeto a los derechos humanos son principios fundamentales del sistema educativo. No lo digo yo. Lo dice la Ley Orgánica de Educación.

Sin embargo, para miles de niños y niñas estas palabras suenan huecas. Adolescentes de toda España sufren acoso escolar de forma cotidiana, y las políticas públicas les están fallando poniendo sus derechos en juego.

El bullying o acoso escolar se define como una agresión física, verbal o relacional, intencionada y repetida en el tiempo, y en la que subyace un desequilibrio de poder real o aparente que impide a la víctima defenderse.

Es un tema de derechos humanos y por eso Amnistía Internacional está llevando a cabo su primera investigación sobre el tema a nivel mundial. Y la estamos haciendo en España. Continue reading “Nadie debería tener miedo de ir a clase”

El deseo para el hombre; la heroicidad para la mujer

Indignación por la sentencia de "La manada"Este artículo fue publicado en El Huffington Post.

No voy a comentar el criterio de la mayoría de la Sección Segunda de la Audiencia Provincial de Navarra.

Respecto al Código Penal diré que ya es hora de escribir en el BOE que sin consentimiento el sexo no es tal sino violación.

Quisiera eso sí llamar la atención sobre estas palabras del extenso voto particular del magistrado que, como me decía una amiga hoy, ya les ha preparado el recurso a los acusados. El Ilustrísimo Señor Don Ricardo Javier González González les habría absuelto al no encontrar en las imágenes de la joven ‘atisbo alguno de oposición, rechazo, disgusto, asco, repugnancia, negativa, incomodidad, sufrimiento, dolor, miedo, descontento, desconcierto o cualquier otro sentimiento similar’ (página 245 de la sentencia).

Este es el mensaje que recibo como hombre al leer este y otros párrafos del voto discrepante: Puedo dar por hecho que la mujer que yo anhele en cada momento consentirá a no ser que exprese claramente su rechazo. Continue reading “El deseo para el hombre; la heroicidad para la mujer”