International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Next Projected UK Milestones for ICESCR:
June 2016: The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) will examine the UK’s State report, on the basis of the list of issues decided upon in October 2015.
Latest EHRC ICESCR Update:
Download our shadow report.
- EHRC Oral Statement at the Pre-Sessional Working Group of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, October 2015 (PDF | Word)
- Socio-economic rights in the UK (PDF | Word)
- Download our recommendations: Socio-economic rights in the UK
For information on children’s economic, social and cultural rights, please see our work on the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Previous UK ICESCR Milestone
October 2015: The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights held its pre-sessional working group meeting at which it decided a list of the key socio-economic rights issues in the UK.
Download the list of issues of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights here
The list of issues produced by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reflected many of the key issues raised by the Commission in its submission. These issues included;
- the impact of social security reform on disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups;
- access to mental health services;
- just and favourable conditions of work, including low pay, migrant workers, and the gender pay gap; and
- the impact of restrictions in the scope of legal aid in England and Wales on people’s access to justice when ICESCR breaches have occurred.
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is one of the key UN human rights treaties. The UK ratified ICESCR in 1976 and agreed to take steps to use the maximum of the resources available, to achieve, progressively, the realisation of the economic, social and cultural rights covered by ICESCR.
ICESCR rights are crucial to enable people to live with dignity. ICESCR covers important areas of public policy, such as the rights to:
- fair and just conditions of work
- social security
- adequate food
- clothing and housing
The EHRC's shadow report from August 2015 covered the following priority areas:
- Adequate standard of living, including: fair financial decision-making; impact of social security reforms on people with disabilities, women, and children; and income, child and food poverty;
- Access to healthcare, including: people with disabilities; older people; other vulnerable groups; and adults and children with mental health problems;
- Access to education, including: access to further and higher education;
- Access to civil law justice, including: the impact of reforms introduced through the Legal aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012; and the proposed residence test;
- Violence against women and girls;
- Just and favorable working conditions, including: low pay, migrant workers and overseas domestic workers;
- Equal pay gaps, including: the gender, race and disability pay gaps.
The State review process
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is monitored by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UN CESCR), a body made up of 18 independent experts. These experts are nominated by the Governments who have ratified ICESCR, and are elected to serve four-year terms. UN CESCR meets two or three times a year.
Governments who have ratified ICESCR submit reports to UN CESCR every five years. These reports outline on the laws and policies they have adopted to implement ICESCR. They should also provide evidence about the effect of these laws and policies on people’s enjoyment of ICESCR rights. These reports are known as the “State Report.”
The UK’s most recent State report, from June 2014:
Five UN CESCR members, known as the “pre-sessional working group” meet to discuss the State report in private. They also consider information from UN agencies, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and civil society. As one of the UK’s National Human Rights Institutions, the EHRC can also submit a report to the UN CESCR at this point. This is known as a “shadow report.”
The pre-sessional working group decides on a list of questions that they want the Government to provide further written information on. This is known as the “List of Issues.” NHRIs and civil society also have the opportunity to provide a written response to the List of Issues.
The UN CESCR will consider the list of issues on the UK in October 2015.
The list of issues will usually form the basis of a public examination of a Government delegation at a meeting of UN CESCR.
The delegation makes an introductory statement, summarising the state report and highlighting any new information. The members of UN CESCR then ask the delegation questions about the state report and their response to the List of Issues.
The date for UK examination has not yet been set, but it is likely to take place in 2016.
Following the public examination, the UN CESCR produces a report, which summarises its key concerns and makes a series of recommendations to the Government to improve its implementation of ICESCR. This report is known as the “Concluding Observations.” States are required to publish these recommendations and follow them up. Governments are required to report on what they have done to implement these recommendations in their next State report, five years later.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UN CESCR) periodically issues general comments, which explain the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). These are considered to be an authoritative interpretation of the obligations that States have under ICESCR. All general comments of UN CESCR can be found here.
- In 2008, UN CESCR issued a general comment on the right to social security. It held that social security “plays an important role in poverty reduction and alleviation, preventing social exclusion and promoting social inclusion.”
- In 2006, UN CESCR issued a general comment on the right to work. It explained that States have an obligation “to assure individuals their right to freely chosen or accepted work, including the right not to be deprived of work unfairly”.
- In 2000, UN CESCR issued a general comment on the right to health. This right includes control over one’s health and body, and an entitlement to a system of health protection which provides equality of opportunity.
Under the Optional Protocol to ICESCR, which entered into force in 2013, UN CESCR can receive and consider complaints that the rights of individuals under ICESCR have not been respected by a State party. In order for the UN CESCR to be able to do this, the State party in question must have signed and ratified the Optional Protocol. The UK has not done so.
Many, but not all, of the rights contained in ICESCR exist in UK laws. For those rights that are not contained in national laws, individuals who want to complain that their ICESCR rights have been violated may not have a way to do so. The individual complaints mechanism of UN CESCR provides an important way for individuals to hold their governments to account. This becomes even more important in countries like the UK, which do not automatically transfer international treaties into national law.
- Mid-term Universal Periodic Review report. This report covers conditions of work of migrant workers, the gender pay gap, welfare reform and tackling inequality.
- Research Report 94: Cumulative Impact Assessment. This report aims to measure the overall impact of the 2010 spending review on people with protected characteristics.
- The Invisible Workforce: Employment practices in the cleaning sector.
- Inquiry into recruitment and employment in the meat and poultry processing sector report
Last Updated: 10 Nov 2015